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JOURNEY 22: Coffee/Caffeine: "Why Wouldn't You?"

When taken in moderate amounts, caffeine results in improvements in alertness, endurance, speed, time-trial performance, increased time to fatigue, strength, reaction times and co-ordination. Not surprising then that it has been shown to improve performance across a wide range of sporting disciplines. A 2017 study [1] even showed that individuals who consume greater amounts of daily caffeine demonstrated reduced sensitivity to a variety of painful stimuli in a lab setting

Good, yes? Because as you know, life can be painful. Especially if you do triathlon.

But as with anything, dose, protocol and responses are individual and should always be trialled well before race day.

So how much can it help?

A 2002 study [2] demonstrated similar improvements with different caffeine protocols in cyclists performing a 30 min TT at the end of 2.5hours of cycling:

  • 3.1% improvement with 1.5mg/kg (Coke) towards the end

  • 3.4% with 6mg/kg 1 hour pre-test

  • 3.4% with 6x 1mg/kg throughout the test

So like I said, why wouldn’t you?

Caffeine comes in many forms: coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks, gums, gels, wafers, bars, tablets, with choice coming down to convenience, tolerability and palatability.

Not a coffee drinker myself unless it comes in a tall glass with ice cream and whipped cream, or in a martini glass if I’m a lady about town, my caffeine-for-sport choice is a combination of tablets and energy drinks (if you check my recycling bin you’ll see I do have a particular favourite). But I may need to rethink this…

While caffeine is not a nutrient, and not a necessary part of the diet, recent research has shown so many benefits from drinking coffee that one could argue it needs to be included in dietary recommendations for all adults!

Coffee is a complex mixture of over 1000 bioactive compounds, some with potential therapeutic effects, the degree dependent on the particulars of the bean/roasting/grinding process, and bioavailability, which is dependent on a person’s genetics and gut microbiome.

A 2017 British Medical Journal meta-analysis [3] demonstrated that coffee consumption was associated with a wide range of improved health outcomes across different levels of intake (high v. low, any v. none, x cups v. x+1 cup), though overall, the largest relative risk reduction occurred at 3-4 cups daily, with reducing benefits at intakes above this. Improvements were seen in all-cause mortality (17%), cardiovascular mortality (19%), cardiovascular disease (15%) for 3-4 cups vs. none, and 18% lower , risk of cancer with high vs. low consumption, including prostate cancer, melanoma, leukaemia, liver cancer, endometrial cancer. Other conditions favouring coffee consumption include stroke, Type 2 diabetes, gout, liver disease, gallstones, kidney stones, depression.

So, little did you know that finishing off your ride at the coffee shop was adding years, and quality to your life. Should be part of any good training program.


[1] Overstreet et al (2018) Higher Habitual dietary caffeine consumption is related to lower experimental pain sensitivity in a community-based sample. Psychopharmacology 235(11);3167-3176

[2] Cox et al (2002) Effect of different protocols of caffeine intake on metabolism and endurance performance. J Appl Physiol 93(3);990-9

[3] Poole et al (2017) Coffee Consumption and Health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes. BMJ 359; 5024

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Angie, serial lover and instagrammer of barista-made coffee for providing the pic. Check her journey out on @angiedowney_

*Disclaimer: advice and information provided is not prescriptive, and is not recommended for your personal situation. Should you choose to include any of these examples in your training, please consult a professional coach prior.

Albeit WADA and IOC legal, caffeine is a stimulant drug, with addictive potential, resulting in side effects at high doses, and withdrawal symptoms if ceased suddenly. So definitely not recommended for use in minors.

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