Guidelines on Usage of Caffeine to Boost Athletic Performance

Coffee or caffeine is the most widely used beverage or supplement by the athletes to enhance performance. In swimming meets, lot of swimmers will be found consuming coffee just before their event. However, majority of athletes are unaware about the correct dosage of caffeine, when to consume and the biggest question which I get frequently is whether caffeine comes in the banned list of supplements or not.
So let’s take a look on the safety guidelines on usage of caffeine to boost athletic performance.


Caffeine is a natural psychoactive stimulant found in coffee, tea & cacao plants. Caffeine is rapidly absorbed into the blood stream within 30 -40 min of consumption & the level can remain high for up to 3 – 4 hours. It influences vasodilation, fat oxidation & decreases airway constriction in the lungs. It stimulates central nervous system, heart, muscles & blood pressure which in turn influences sports performance.


Caffeine was considered a banned substance at the Olympics for many years but in 2004, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) allowed caffeine but has included it in the monitoring programme to track general usage patterns in athletes. According to FINA, urinary concentration of caffeine should not exceed 12 micrograms / millilitre.
The International Olympic Committee mandates an allowable limit of 12 μg of caffeine per ml of urine. Similarly, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) considers urinary concentrations after competition that exceed 15 μg/ml to be illegal. This is equivalent to 8 - 10 cups of brewed coffee (providing 80 - 100 mg/cup), 3 – 4 hours before competition.


Caffeine may enhance performance for the following sports:

  • Endurance (>60 min)
  • High intensity (1-60 min)
  • Team& intermittent

It may not benefit exercises like sprinting.

  •  Caffeine stimulates the brain & increases concentration, alertness & focus.
  •  It increases stamina & physical endurance
  • It lowers perceived exertion
  • It decreases muscle soreness

According to Journal of Applied Physiology, athletes that consumed caffeine and carbs after strenuous exercise had 66% more glycogen in their muscles than athletes who just ingested carbs alone post workout. Several other studies have shown that with caffeine athletes were able to train longer. More benefits are observed in athletes who rarely drinks coffee & hence are not tolerant to its stimulant effect.


According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine / day is safe for most healthy adults. Adolescents should ingest no more than 100 mg of caffeine / day and children should not consume caffeine. Individual responses to caffeine vary but 1-3 mg caffeine per kg body weight is sufficient to improve performance (e.g. 70-210mg in a 70kg athlete).

If a person is a regular coffee drinker, then it’s better to go off caffeine at least a week before an important race or meet as regular coffee consumption builds up tolerance to it which reduces caffeine’s effects.

Generally athletes are seen taking coffee just few minutes before a competition. For optimal performance it is always suggested to take caffeine 1-2 hours prior to the training or any meet as caffeine level peaks in the blood only after 60 – 90 min post consumption. However, make sure to test this protocol first during training if you are using caffeine for the first time.
Avoid taking it post 4 or 5pm as it may affect sleep.

Too much or too high caffeine consumption can cause following side effects:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia or Disturbed Sleep
  • Increased heart rate
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Irritability
  • Tremors
  • Gastro intestinal discomfort
  • Muscle breakdown or Rhabdomyolysis
  • Addiction
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent Urination


Food Quantity Caffeine Content
Filtered Coffee  125 ml 85 mg
Espresso Shot  30 ml 60 mg
Instant Coffee  125 ml 65 mg
 Starbucks 470 ml 200 mg
Tea  150 ml 32 mg
 Iced Tea  330 ml 20 mg
Caffeinated Soft Drinks 330 ml 39 mg
Chocolate Bar 30 g 20 mg
Dark Chocolate 30 g 60 mg
 Red Bull 250 ml 80 mg
Cola Beverage  330 ml 39 mg

**Data adapted from Illy et al., Harland et al., and Heckman et al


By this article we are neither suggesting athletes to use caffeine nor supporting use of performance enhancing drugs. It is just to review caffeine use & possible health consequences as lot of people are unclear or have misconceptions about caffeine. Inclusion of caffeine in an athletes diet should be on individual basis & it’s always suggested to work with Sports Nutritionist to ensure correct caffeine dosage & better time protocol for best results.

Author: Rashmi Cherian

Registered Dietitian (License No 61/08), Certified Sports & Exercise Nutritionist

Founder, Wellness Vows


Copyright @ 2017 SwimIndia

SwimIndia does not guarantee results of any sort, before making any changes to your diet plans, please consult an expert

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