The Effect Of Caffeine On Cycling And Running Performance

The Effect Of Caffeine On Cycling And Running Performance

Worldwide caffeine consumption is on the rise, especially amongst athletes with coffee culture becoming more and more ingrained in cycling and running. The average person consumes two cups of coffee a day which typically contains around 200mg of caffeine. Caffeine has been seen to improve sports performance across a range of factors.

How does caffeine support sports performance? 

There really is no question that caffeine increases performance whether that's reaction time, endurance time trial performance or perception of fatigue.(1,2) A review of over 20 caffeine studies in relation to endurance sport has seen over 3% improvement in endurance performance metrics. Research suggests that consuming between 3-6mg of caffeine per kilo of body weight provides an optimal and safe level for performance.(1) If a 70kg athlete consumes caffeine at 3 mg/kg of body weight they would look to consume 210mg, a little more than a couple of cups of coffee on average.

When using caffeine to aide sports performance, it is important to understand that everyone’s tolerances differ and what works for one person may not work for another. Caffeine as a stimulant increases your heart rate, dampens your perception of fatigue and increases your utilisation of fat for energy use; aiding glycogen sparing for athletic performance.(3,4) To really perfect the impact of caffeine on the performance athletes should consume the stimulant around 30-90 minutes prior to racing or desired peak performance. 

Fatigue can manifest itself in many different forms. Localised muscular ache or pain, tiredness and drowsiness or the inability to maintain a level of effort, pace or power. Studies have shown athletes that are supplied with a caffeine and carbohydrate drink can perform up to over 20% better in the heat over those with just carbohydrates supported consumption. This notion is further backed by studies viewing significant reductions in Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE).(5) Now, for those who like to really get to the nitty gritty of the science, there is also evidence to support the notion that the effort of caffeine on fatigue, may not just be perceptual. Maximal strength measured on a muscle fiber level has shown athletes supplemented with caffeine to lose two thirds less strength than those supplemented without caffeine.(5) Key takeaways from this can be that caffeine supplementation can improve muscle contraction strength after cycling making it a key supplement triathletes should consider in supporting their performance. 

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Caffeine Content as per Brewing Method

Brewing Method - Volume of Coffee

Caffeine Content (mg)

French Press - 16 grams

111 mg 

V60 - 16 grams 

146 mg

Percolator (Stovetop) - 16 grams

190 mg

Espresso - 18 grams

196 mg


1 Ganio, Matthew S; Klau, Jennifer F; Casa, Douglas J; Armstrong, Lawrence E; Maresh, Carl M. Effect of Caffeine on Sport-Specific Endurance Performance: A Systematic Review. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research:January 2009 – Volume 23 – Issue 1 – pp 315-324

2 Lawrence L. Spriet, Ph.D., FACSM (Chair) and Terry E. Graham, Ph.D., FACSM.  ACSM Current Comment Caffeine and Exercise.

3. Graham TE. Caffeine and exercise: metabolism, endurance and performance. Sports Med. 2001;31(11):785-807.

4. Southward K, Rutherfurd-Markwick KJ, Ali A. The Effect of Acute Caffeine Ingestion on Endurance Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2018 Aug;48(8):1913-1928.

5. Cureton KJ, Warren GL, Millard-Stafford ML, Wingo JE, Trilk J, Buyckx M. Caffeinated sports drink: ergogenic effects and possible mechanisms. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2007 Feb;17(1):35-55.