Coffee consumption may improve performance times in a competitive race

November 17, 2017

Study suggests a strong cup of coffee an hour before a competitive one mile running race can improve performance times by almost 2%

A new study has investigated the effectiveness of coffee consumption as a sports performance aid and found that drinking a large cup of coffee an hour before a one mile race enhanced performance times in trained male runners by 1.9% compared with a placebo. The study, ‘Coffee Ingestion Enhances One Mile Running Race Performance’ is the first to investigate the effect of coffee ingestion in a competitive race environment.

In a double-blind, randomised, crossover, placebo-controlled design, 13 trained male runners completed a one mile race an hour after consuming either 0.09 grams of caffeinated instant coffee per kilogram of body mass (g·kg⁻¹) to achieve an intake of 3 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body mass. Alternatively participants were given 0.09 g·kg⁻¹ of 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. When caffeinated coffee was consumed the race was completed approximately five seconds faster than when a placebo was consumed, and approximately four seconds faster than when decaffeinated coffee was consumed.

Although caffeine, often in the form of coffee, is frequently supplemented by athletes to improve performance during exercise, prior to this study, there has been far less research into caffeine consumption in in the form of coffee, and actual competitive events are seldom investigated.

Trials were performed at the same time on separate days to minimise daily performance variation, on an indoor 200m running track. Performance times were not given to the participants until completion of the study, and the races were handicapped based on each individual’s personal best time. Participants also received a monetary reward based on their placement in each race to ensure each trial was competitive and motivation was maintained.

Dr. Neil Clarke of Coventry University and lead author of the study said, “There is a strong body of research, as acknowledged by the European Food Safety Authority in its Scientific Opinion1, to suggest that caffeine consumption can improve sports performance. Despite this, few studies have looked at the effect of coffee drinking. As a popular daily drink, it is important to understand if coffee specifically could have a beneficial effect on sports performance. 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.”

Although the research did not actively seek to investigate the mechanisms underlying the effect, it is likely due to caffeine’s effect on the adenosine receptors. Caffeine non-selectively blocks both adenosine receptors and competitively inhibits the action of adenosine, which increases cell activity, and during exercise can alter pain perception, increase neuro-excitability and sustain motor unit firing. It has also been suggested that improvements in perceived exertion, reaction time, cognition, and mood also have an influence on performance.

Caffeine and coffee may be less effective for non-trained individuals participating in high-intensity exercise3, possibly due to trained athletes, such as those in the study, having more muscle mass than recreational athletes and the concentration of adenosine receptors appearing to be higher in trained compared to untrained individuals4. The high variability in performance that is typical for untrained subjects may also contribute.

The team of researchers from across Coventry, Cardiff Metropolitan and Newman universities in the UK concede that the study was not without limitations as baseline salivary caffeine concentrations suggested that caffeine was not completely abstained from prior to each trial. Nevertheless, they argue that this is more likely to represent typical pre-race preparation.

The paper concludes that the consumption of caffeinated coffee sixty minutes before a one mile race significantly increased salivary caffeine concentration and 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.


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Notes to editors

  • Definition of ‘g-kg’. A gram per kilogram of the body weight of the person taking the substance (grams per kilogram of body mass)
  • The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in a review on the Safety of Caffeine concluded that a moderate caffeine consumption, of around 400mg caffeine per day (the equivalent of up to 5 cups of coffee), can be enjoyed as part of a healthy balanced diet and an active lifestyle2. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to limit their caffeine intake to 200mg per day2.
  • This paper was funded by ISIC but this has not in any way affected the production or content of the research. The author has declared no conflict of interest.
  • More information on coffee and sports performance can be found on the Coffee & Health website:


  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. EFSA (2015) Scientific Opinion on the Safety of Caffeine, EFSA Journal, 13(5):4102.
  3. Goldstein E.R. et al. (2010) International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Caffeine and Performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 7:5.
  4. Mizuno M. et al. (2005) Greater adenosine A2A receptor densities in cardiac and skeletal muscle in endurance-trained men: a [11C]TMSX PET study. Nuclear Medicine and Biology, 32(8): 831-836.

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