You may have heard that caffeine helps you stay awake, but did you know that it can also help you with exercise and sports? Caffeine is one of the most well-studied ergogenic aids, which are substances that help support athletic performance and physical activity.

Many athletes use caffeine to boost performance, especially before working out, training or playing sports. In general, most people can benefit from taking caffeine before exercise.

Here are my top tips on caffeine and when and how to take them:

Caffeine Can Improve Training and Exercise

Caffeine works by stimulating the central nervous system, heart, muscles, and the centers that control blood pressure1. As a stimulant, it facilitates the body’s ability to use fat for fuel. For this reason, caffeine may help to extend endurance during strenuous exercise.

It also reduces the perception of fatigue, helping you stay motivated through sustained activities.

A moderate amount of caffeine, taken an hour before a streneuous training or competition, has been found to significantly increase performance as compared to placebo, with the athletes affected by minimal side effects2. That said, it’s no wonder that caffeine use in sports is very common.

Caffeine Enhances Mental Focus and Alertness

Caffeine has also been shown to enhance mental focus, which can be extremely beneficial pre-workout. Caffeine stimulates the brain and contributes to clearer thinking and greater concentration.

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Whether it is getting in the zone or making quick game-time decisions, caffeine can be very effective when playing competitive sports.

The Best Sources of Caffeine

Caffeine is found in many foods and beverages, and more than 90 percent of the U.S. population consumes it on a regular basis3. Caffeine can be obtained from a variety of sources, so how you get your caffeine is your personal preference!

Most commonly, people will get caffeine from coffee, tea, or a pre-workout supplement that may contain an effective source of caffeine like guarana seed. Keep in mind the calories when you consume caffeinated beverages like soda or energy drinks – they can add up quickly if you’re not careful.

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How To Take Caffeine: Individuals Respond Differently

People’s sensitivity to caffeine can vary. Some will metabolize caffeine quickly, while others will metabolize it more slowly; some will show greater sensitivity to the stimulating effects of caffeine, while others need higher amounts to feel an effect4.

If you are just starting to use caffeine, it is best to start small and then add more if you need it. Avoid more than 200mg of caffeine in one serving (there is about 100mg caffeine in an 8oz coffee); and no more than 400mg in one day.

One thing to keep in mind is that caffeine can disrupt sleep, so it is best to keep caffeine intake for your morning workouts only. For maximum effectiveness, try consuming caffeine 15-30 minutes before starting a workout.

Overall, the best rule of thumb for incorporating caffeine into your workout are these:

  1. Start with small amounts.
  2. Keep it for use in the morning.
  3. Try different sources of caffeine to see what you like best.

1 Dunford M, Coleman EJ. Ergogenic aids, dietary supplements, and exercise. In: Rosenbloom CA, Coleman EJ, eds. Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals. 5th ed. Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; 2012:128.
2 Spriet L. Exercise and Sport Performance with Low Doses of Caffeine. Sports Med. 2014; 44(Suppl 2): 175–184.
3 Frary C, Johnson R, Wang MQ. Food Sources and Intakes of Caffeine in the Diets of Persons in the United States. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Apr;108(4):727.
4 Nehlig A. (2018) Inter-individual differences in caffeine metabolism and factors driving caffeine consumption. Pharmacol Rev. 70(2):384–41.
Dana Ryan

Dana RyanPh.D., MA, MBA – Director, Sports Performance, Nutrition and Education

Dr. Dana Ryan is the director of Sports Performance, Nutrition and Education at Herbalife. She is also the Chair of the Fitness Advisory Board. She completed her doctorate in Physical Activity, Nutrition and Wellness at Arizona State University. She earned an MBA from USC and a Master’s in Kinesiology from San Diego State University. Dr. Ryan is also certified in nutrition for optimal health, wellness and performance. Before joining Herbalife Nutrition, she taught exercise physiology and related courses at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA), and conducted research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA),* on the impact of community-based nutrition and physical activity programs on heart disease risk. A passionate athlete, Dr. Ryan enjoys all water sports, especially rowing. Her favorite Herbalife products are Herbalife24® Liftoff®, Herbalife24® Rebuild Strength and Enrichual Hemp Facial Serum.

*The University of California does not endorse specific products or services as a matter of policy.