Whether you’re a competitive athlete or just serious about your fitness performance, your goal should be to increase your speed and endurance which will allow you to compete more effectively as well as maximize your fitness gains. One form of natural supplement that may help to enhance sports performance is caffeine. Yes, that simple cup of coffee that helps to wake you up in the morning may be the key to increased athletic endurance. Caffeine and exercise performance are currently being studied to determine the exact role caffeine plays in promoting endurance and what quantities are needed to give maximum results.

Several studies have looked at the role of caffeine and exercise performance. The American College of Sports Medicine has published research which shows that ingesting the equivalent of two to six cups of coffee prior to an athletic event can increase physical endurance and sports performance in both runners and cyclists.

How does caffeine exert its positive effects on sports performance and muscle endurance? The exact mechanism of action accounting for caffeine’s effects on the muscle is not fully understood. It’s thought that caffeine may exert its effect by directly activating the brain and increasing mental arousal or by stimulating muscle tissue by altering calcium release from the muscle fibers. Enhanced calcium release would serve to increase the force of muscular contractions. It may also exert some of its effect by stimulating the release of free fatty acids which can be used as muscle fuel, thus sparing muscle glycogen, and preventing the onset of fatigue.

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Caffeine and exercise performance would seem to be a natural combination for improving fitness. Caffeine is not a banned substance in professional athletics like so many other performance enhancers. Plus, it’s inexpensive and easy to obtain. Unfortunately, caffeine is not without its potential side effects and can be dangerous if used in substantial doses by a susceptible individual.

Caffeine affects each individual differently. Some people experience symptoms of anxiety, blood pressure elevations, and heart palpitations at even low levels of caffeine and if there happens to be an undocumented history of heart disease, the result could be a fatal heart rhythm abnormality. Teenagers and younger athletes may also be more susceptible to the side effects of caffeine which can offset any improvements in performance by inducing anxiety and loss of focus. Plus long term caffeine consumption may have other negative effects such as altering sleep patterns and reducing fertility in women.

If you’re an athlete interested in caffeine and exercise performance and want to test your response to this stimulant, what dose should you use? Most sources recommend five milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. This would be the equivalent of around three cups of coffee in the average individual. This is best obtained through drinking coffee since caffeine pills may vary in their actual caffeine content. Try using caffeine several weeks prior to any athletic event to see if you encounter any undesirable side effects.

Always approach the use of caffeine with caution keeping in mind that it is a drug with addictive potential and may have long term health implications. Don’t make the mistake of jeopardizing your health for better sports performance.