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Caffeine

Caffeine is a powerful supplement that increases your motivation and mood while reducing your rate of perceived exertion, but how can you best optimise its use so that you go faster?

Caffeine will moderately improve your anaerobic and sprint abilities, and it will substantially improve your aerobic endurance capacity. Habitual and non-habitual caffeine users will see no difference. [1]

The effective dose of caffeine is 3-6 mg per kilogram of body weight. Make sure to check the label of your caffeine sources to ensure that you are within this window. It usually takes 45-60 minutes from ingestion to reach peak caffeine blood levels, but it can be anywhere between 30-120 minutes. [2]

The effect of caffeine grows stronger the more fatigued you are. For example, if you take caffeine late in a race, you would see more of an effect. Furthermore, the best available evidence indicates that there is no difference in the effects of caffeine if you are well-trained or not. The same goes for if you are a man or a woman, but person to person, there are significant variations in how we respond to caffeine.

Caffeine is safe, and will help you at high altitudes and very hot temperatures within 4-6 mg/kg and 3-6 mg/kg respectively. Chewing gum, mouth rinses, energy gels, and chews all have evidence to support their use.

The combined effect of caffeine with other supplements on cycling performance:

- Combined creatine and caffeine is additive. [3]

- Combining caffeine and sodium bicarbonate may increase negative stomach-related side effects. While these supplements enhance performance through different mechanisms, suggesting potential additive benefits, a recent review found only one of eight studies demonstrating such an advantage. However, at least two studies reported significant side effects, leading to conclusions of no overall benefit. Therefore, potentially athletes with a trained gut might benefit, more evidence is required. [4]

- There isn’t enough evidence to determine whether combined caffeine and beta-alanine is additive or not. [5]

For peak performance, a supplementation protocol of sodium bicarbonate and beta alanine is probably better than caffeine, since there is strong evidence that they are additive. However, caffeine is tasty and mood-enhancing. Furthermore, caffeine improves your cognitive function, including attention and vigilance, which are important so that you can keep safe on the bike.

Notes

[1] The information in this article comes from the position stand by the International Society of Sports Nutrition. The authors note that individual responses to caffeine supplementation vary, and we present the average magnitude of the effect. Caffeine has been shown to improve endurance performance by 2-4% across multiple studies.

In this meta-analysis, the authors found moderately strong evidence that women may get less of a benefit from caffeine for anaerobic performance than men. All other performance effects were identical. The authors of this meta-analysis found that genetic differences can vary to the extent that people possessing a specific allele can show no improvement in time-trial performance.

[2] The minimum effective dose of caffeine may be as little as 2 mg/kg, and 9 mg/kg doses have a high incidence rate of side effects and do not seem to elicit further improvements. Temperature of the caffeine gel/drink doesn’t seem to have an effect on absorption rates. Caffeine gum and mouth rinse absorb caffeine the fastest.

[3] Caffeine and creatine work in mostly independent pathways, and it seems that their individual benefits are added together when you take both.

[4] Based on this review from the journal of dietary supplements.

[5] See the article on beta-alanine.