Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance, found in over 60 different plants and is a stimulant and mild diuretic. It is the most commonly used drug in the world as it is found in coffee, tea, chocolate (and chocolate-based drinks) and many carbonated and energy drinks.

Up until 2004 caffeine was on the prohibited substances list, with athletes being limited to a urine level below 12 micrograms per millilitre. This is equivalent to 6-8 cups of coffee (600-800mg). Performance-enhancing effects have since been proven at a much lower intake, between 2-4 cups of coffee (200-400mg).

WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) is currently monitoring the usage of caffeine by athletes, as it has been suggested that since it was removed from the prohibited list, its use has dramatically increased. If this is the case, WADA must decide whether to reinstate the ban and if the permitted threshold should be lowered. Of course, the other option is to put a complete ban on the use of caffeine, this would, however, be impossible due to caffeine staying in the system for up to 48 hours. Therefore an athlete would not be able to have a cup of coffee or an energy drink within 48 hours of competition. Random drug testing makes this even less feasible.

Effects on Performance

During periods of 30-120 minutes caffeine has been shown to produce the following benefits:

  • Improved muscle contractability
  • Increased time to exhaustion
  • Improved concentration
  • Enhanced alertness
  • Reduced fatigue

In the short-term (under 30 minutes) caffeine can have a detrimental effect on some aspects of performance, for example, fine motor control and technique due to over-arousal.

Side-Effects of Caffeine

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Dehydration
  • Restlessness, anxiety & irritability
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Interference with recovery and sleep patterns
  • Palpitations
  • Increased muscle tension