Caffeine was recently removed from the WADA banned substance list as large amounts of this supplement do not provide a greater benefit than the smaller amounts that would be present in most athletes’ diets. This is because caffeine is found in coffee, chocolate, tea and many other commonly consumed products.
Previously caffeine was thought to be an ergogenic aid, which increases fat mobility converting fats to free fatty acids used for energy production. The increase in free fatty acids increases the production of ATP from fat sparing glycogen stores to be used later in the competition. However, we now know that caffeine’s main benefit is blocking adenosine in the brain. This improves the athlete’s perception of fatigue, allowing for greater performance as the athlete can go harder, for longer (See Sports Dietitians Australia for more detail).
The benefits of this supplement can be felt and seen almost immediately after consumption. This is because the body does not need large amounts in order to benefit. This means that it can be consumed either before a relatively short event, throughout longer events, or even just as fatigue begins to be noticed. Regardless of when, the supplement is beneficial, especially for marathons, iron mans, or multi-day cycling events.
Caffeine is also a stimulant, which means it speeds up the nervous system. This stimulation increases an athlete’s heart rate and enhances concentration. This can be useful in quick decision-making needed in many sports. The stimulation of caffeine also has side effects and large amounts can cause an athlete to shake or have symptoms of anxiety. These side effects would be detrimental to sports such as shooting or darts where a steady hand is vital.
As a diuretic, caffeine removes water from the body. During competition, especially long competition this could become fatal. If used, the athlete must ensure they consume greater amounts of fluids throughout the competition and afterwards in order to aid recovery.