Can coffee consumption improve performance in trained athletes?

March 23, 2018
Dr Neil Clarke, Principal Lecturer, School Of Life Sciences, Coventry University (UK)

Caffeine is a highly studied substance and there is a strong body of research, as acknowledged by the European Food Safety Authority in its Scientific Opinion, to say that a moderate intake of caffeine, [equivalent to around 3 mg per kilogram of body weight (mg·kg-1)] may improve a variety of activities such as endurance activities and high intensity sports [1].

Although caffeine is frequently supplemented by athletes to improve performance during exercise, there has been far less research into how coffee specifically affects sports performance.  Interestingly, a number of studies have shown that coffee can be used as an alternative to caffeine to improve competitive running [2], and produce similar effects to pure caffeine. As a popular everyday drink, it is important to understand if coffee specifically could impact sports performance.

In my recent study, which was part-funded by ISIC, 13 trained male runners completed a one mile race an hour after consuming either 0.09 g·kg [1] of caffeinated or decaffeinated instant coffee, or a placebo. The coffee, equivalent to approximately 2-3 typical servings, was dissolved in 300ml of water and served in one large cup.

We found that race performance improved by nearly two percent following caffeinated coffee consumption, an increase that can give a significant edge over rivals in a competitive race.

The leading hypothesis by which coffee and caffeine may improve performance is the antagonist effect on the adenosine receptors. This allows the body to create greater force during its muscle contraction, and contract those muscles more forcefully, as well as more frequently [3,4]. There is also the perception that exercise feels slightly easier, as well as reduced associated pain [4,5]. However, there are differences between individuals and how they respond to caffeine [6]. Researchers have suggested that the impact of caffeine consumption on performance may differ between individuals, possibly mediated by polymorphisms within two genes, CYP1A2 and ADORA2A, as well as environmental factors, which means consuming caffeine won’t necessarily improve everyone’s performance.

Finally, there is always a perception that drinking coffee may have a diuretic effect and whilst caffeine may exert a short-term diuretic effect, research suggests that this does not counter-balance the effects of the fluid intake from coffee drinking [7-15]. Drinking caffeinated coffee in moderation can keep you hydrated just like any other drink [7-15].

In summary, our paper findings suggest that the consumption of caffeinated coffee 60 minutes before a one mile race improved race performance in competitive runners compared with decaffeinated coffee and a placebo solution. The findings suggest that coffee is a suitable source of caffeine prior to a middle distance running race however more research on the subject is welcome.


  1. EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2011). Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to caffeine and increase in physical performance during short-term high-intensity exercise (ID 737, 1486, 1489), increase in endurance performance (ID 737, 1486), increase in endurance capacity (ID 1488) and reduction in the rated perceived exertion/effort during exercise (ID 1488, 1490) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal, 9(4):2053.
  2. Clarke N. et al. (2017) Coffee ingestion enhances one-mile running race performance. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, published online ahead of print.
  3. Spriet L.L. (2014) Exercise and sport performance with low doses of caffeine. Sports Med, 44(2):175-184.
  4. Gliottoni R.C. et al. (2009) Effect of Caffeine on Quadricep Pain During Acute Cycling Exercises in Low Versus High Caffeine Consumers. Sport Nutr Exer Metab, 19:150-161.
  5. Astorino T.A. et al. (2011) Effect of caffeine intake on pain perception during high-intensity exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 21(1):27-32.
  6. Pickering C. and Kiely K. (2017) Are the current guidelines on caffeine use in sport optimal for everyone? Inter-individual variation in caffeine ergogenicity and a move towards personalised sports nutrition. Sports Med, published online ahead of print.
  7. Ganio M. S. et al. (2009) Effect of Caffeine on Sport-Specific Endurance Performance: A Systematic Review. J Strength Cond Res, 23(1):315-24.
  8. Maughan R.J. et al (2003) Caffeine ingestion and fluid balance: a review. J Hum Nutr Diet, 16(6):411-20.
  9. Neuhauser-Berthold M. et al (1997) Coffee consumption and total body water homeostasis as measured by fluid balance and bioelectrical impedance analysis. Ann Nutr Metab, 41(1):29-36.
  10. Grandjean A.C. et al (2000) The effect of caffeinated, non caffeinated, caloric and non caloric beverages on hydration. J Am Coll Nutr, 19(5):591-600.
  11. Armstrong L.E. et al (2005) Fluid, electrolyte, renal indices of hydration during 11 days of controlled caffeine consumption. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 15(3):252-65.
  12. Silva A. M. et al (2013) Total body water and its compartments are not affected by ingesting a moderate dose of caffeine in healthy young adult males. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 38:626-632.
  13. Zhang Y. et al. (2014) Caffeine and diuresis during rest and exercise: A meta-analysis. J Sci Med Sport, S1440-2440(14).
  14. Killer S. C. et al. (2014) No Evidence of Dehydration with Moderate Daily Coffee Intake: A Counterbalanced Cross-Over Study in a Free-Living Population. PLoS ONE, 9(1): e84154.
  15. Armstrong L.E. (2002). Caffeine, body fluid-electrolyte balance, and exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr and Exerc Metab., 12:205-222.

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