Who’d have thought that a nutritional component, or to be more specific, an alkaloid and stimulant drug could actually serve as your very own drill sergeant!? Get this, caffeine was one of the most talked about ergogenic aids (performance enhancers) during the last Tour de France. I was fortunate enough to attend the great race in Paris, and during my time there I was also invited to a Sports Nutrition conference which hosted some of the world’s leading researchers, scientists, nutrition experts and athletes. There appraisal of caffeine was positive, yes they acknowledged that it is the most over consumed drug on earth, yes they agreed that caffeine has to be taken responsibly, but above all they agreed that it worked! But how…?
Caffeine tells you to ‘man up’ and carry on!
Believe it or not, some of caffeine’s ergogenic properties enable it to convince you that you can DO BETTER! Caffeine has been seen to increase speed and power output, enhance carb liberation and endurance, as well as stimulating the brain in turn reducing the athletes perceived level of exertion. This particular response is why caffeine can act as your very own drill sergeant, so if your perceived level of exertion is reduced, then effectively you convince yourself that you can train harder for longer…much like a PTI drill sergeant might! So how does it do this? Well, there are a few plausible mechanisms, chiefly that of caffeine’s apparent ability to antagonise the adenosine receptors. When the body is under stress i.e. during exercise, the levels of circulating adenosine is increased in order to reduce activity. Caffeine attaches to adenosine receptors which minimises the inhibitory effects adenosine might have on nerve response (excitation), this enables athletes to perform for longer (Kalmar and Cafarelli, 2004). Caffeine has various reported roles for preserving energy, this includes caffeine’s carb sparing effects. Caffeine spares carbs because it promotes the utilisation of fat for energy, therefore glycogen stores are preserved more than if caffeine wasn’t consumed. Caffeine can also increase the level of calcium released in the muscle, and calcium is a major component in the action potentials for muscle contraction meaning muscle strength may be improved. Perhaps most notable thoughis caffeine’s ability to stimulate the central nervous system which may alleviate fatigue, improve alertness and increase muscle fibre recruitment.
So it seems that caffeine’s ability to stimulate the central nervous system and thus the brain, is one of it’s main performance enhancing effects. So if like me you find your head giving in before your body does sometimes then remember…your body could probably go on, just have an espresso or a pre-workout supplement (provided you have no underlying medical condition) and let your caffeine drill sergeant get you through this!
Wallman, K, E., Goh, J, W. & Guelfi, K, J. (2010). Effects of caffeine on exercise performance in sedentary females. Journal of sports science and medicine. 9: 183- 189.
Tipton, K, D. & Luc Van Loon, J, C. (2014). Nutritional coaching strategy to modulate training efficiency. Nestle Nutrition Institute. Basel: Karger