Book Review: Caffeine for Sports Performance by Louise Burke, Ben Desbrow and Lawrence Spriet

I just finished reading the book Caffeine for Sports Performance by Drs. Louise Burke, Ben Desbrow and Lawrence Spriet, and found a lot of interesting insights.

A lot of the general public’s knowledge of caffeine is limited, and there are some misconceptions here and there.

Hopefully some of the information from Caffeine for Sports Performance helps elucidate how to properly use caffeine for enhanced performance.


Original source: here.

            Here are the points that I think you’ll find most interesting:

  • At doses of 1.5-3.5 mg/kg (if you’re a 70kg/154 pound person, that’s 105-245 mg of caffeine. That’s about 1-2 cups of coffee), caffeine doesn’t increase adrenaline. At doses of 5-9 mg/kg, it does.
  • Since caffeine doesn’t increase performance by affecting the muscles or the hormones (at least not at low dosages), how can we account for its performance-enhancing effects? Its effects are almost exclusively on the Central Nervous System (CNS). And again, that’s at low dosages.
  • Adenosine is a brain chemical that slows down the nervous system, reduces wakefulness and vigilance. Caffeine opposes the actions of adenosine.
  • Caffeine lowers the rating of perceived exertion. So your exercise may objectively be hard. But subjectively, you don’t feel it as much.
  • In one study, participants just swished coffee in their mouth, and then spat it out. This was 1 hour before doing 6 high-intensity cycling sprints with 24 seconds rest in between.
    • This improved performance in the first sprint of the series. Cool.
  • From one cup of coffee to another, caffeine content varies a lot. From 12 to 282 mg in one 250ml cup of coffee.
  • Caffeine appears to be most effective in events lasting over an hour. It doesn’t seem to be very effective in events lasting seconds (like javelin, shot put, weighlifting, sprints, etc.)
  • It seems that 3 mg/kg is the dose that is required to get the desired performance-enhancing effects of caffeine. More than that has diminishing returns.
  • In one study, researchers had swimmers do 2, 200 meter races, 30 minutes apart, while using caffeine.
    • The caffeine helped the first race, but hurt the second race. The penalty for going hard the first time means less energy for the second time.
  • There seems to be a lower risk of type 2 diabetes among regular coffee drinkers.
    • These health effects are also seen with decaf, implying that it’s not the caffeine in coffee that is protective. It’s likely other nutrients.
  • In one study on the elderly (70 years old and up), a dose of 6mg/kg improved cycling performance at 65% of the maximal heart rate by 25%.
    • Perceived exertion was reduced by 11%.
    • Balance decreased by 25%. So they had better endurance, but worse balance.
    • There was no effect on muscle strength, walking speed, reaction time and movement time.
  • Does caffeine make you lose water? Only in people who aren’t used to it. After 4-5 days of regular use, that effect goes away. And even in people who aren’t used to it, it only makes you lose 50-100ml of water for every cup. So if you drink a regular, 250ml cup of coffee, you’re getting 150-200ml of hydration.
  • There is significant variability in responses to caffeine.
    • In one study, participants were asked to run and cycle as long as they could at 80 and 85% of their maximal aerobic capacity. One group got a placebo (fake), and one group got 9mg/kg of caffeine.
      • In the caffeine group, improvements ranged from 5% to 87% in the running trials, and 10-156% in the cycling trials.

Overall, Caffeine for Sports Performance has a lot of information on how to properly use caffeine to enhance your athletic performance.


This is just a snippet of what I learned. I took 5 pages of notes, and these are the ones that I thought would be most interesting for you.

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