Using caffeine as a performance enhancing aid has been recommended and praised by many, but does it actually help improve performance?
Moderate amounts of caffeine intake during endurance events have been shown to improve athletic performance, however, it may not work the same for everyone. Here’s why!
Genetics play a role in whether caffeine is beneficial for your athletic performance or not. If you are a fast metabolizer of caffeine, the breakdown of components of caffeine actually enhance time trial performance.
If you’re a slow metabolizer it’s not quite the same.
And if you have one allele of each fast and slow, then caffeine is detrimental to performance.
To test how you respond try taking a caffeine chew (not a caffeine pill) towards the end of a long run or bout of endurance exercise and see how you respond.
If all of a sudden you get a boost and you’re not anxious, then you know that caffeine can work for you. If you get a boost and then a sudden blood sugar drop and you start getting really anxious and jittery, then you know that caffeine may not be a performance enhancing aid for you.
Coke is common to see at endurance events because it is believed that you’ll get a hit of sugar and a hit of caffeine all in one. Sugar actually mediates the caffeine clearance. If you were to just take a caffeine chew, or use a green tea extract, a sugar free red bull, or even espresso shots then you are clearing your blood sugar so rapidly that you get hypoglycemic.
If you do use caffeine make sure you eat or drink it with something that gives you that sugar coming in with it! Don’t just rely on the caffeine.
Are there sex differences?
The metabolism and effect of caffeine really come down to genetics. The only observed sex difference so far is when women start to hit peri and post menopause or menopause, caffeine itself can trigger hot flashes. Otherwise, there doesn't seem to be much difference until you look at genetics and how we as individuals metabolize caffeine.
Whether caffeine is a performance aid is highly individual and takes some trial and error to find out!