Book Review – Caffeine for Sports Performance by Louise Burke, Ben Desbrow and Lawrence Spriet
Caffeine for Sports Performance by Louise Burke, Ben Desbrow and Lawrence Spriet
Caffeine for Sports Performance was first published in 2013 and even two years later is the most complete text on the effects of caffeine, offering a good review of all the research that was available at the time. Despite being effectively an extended research paper / review, it is written in a way that is easy to follow and is punctuated by anecdotes from the athletes the authors have worked with, breaking up the writing and giving the facts a personal angle.
Although very specialist, I feel the book isn’t just relevant to elite sports athletes. There are a number of the chapters that are incredibly interesting for everyone. Chapter two ‘How Caffeine Works’ and Chapter four ‘Finding Caffeine in Our Diets’ are particularly relevant. Who would have thought that 100g of your chosen milk chocolate could contain more caffeine than an average instant coffee, that diet coke has ⅓ more caffeine than standard coke and who knew that your average Swede drinks just under 9.5kg of coffee a year (in the UK its only around 2.25Kg). There is also a chapter on ‘Side Effects and Health Risks’ including the research on the effects of caffeine on carbohydrate metabolism and type II diabetes. Incidentally the latest numbers from the World Health Organisation on healthy life expectancy have Sweden near the top and above the European Average (WHO 2015) – perhaps they are onto something.
Does Caffeine boost performance?
There is clear evidence from the research that caffeine boosts performance in both intermittent team sports and endurance sport but there is no evidence of a benefit in short burst sports like sprint track events. What is interesting is that these benefits appear at fairly low caffeine intakes, around 3mg/kg of body weight, which in a 50kg female may be as little as ½ a Starbucks. Researchers have also found that good performances, particularly ones that athletes rated highly, were more likely after using a caffeine source from a real food, specifically cola based drinks. This is increasingly being found in other areas of sports nutrition, where in real live events athletes much prefer real foods to supplements, gels or specialist drinks. Large doses of caffeine have not been found to boost performance further and in fact may be detrimental. High dose caffeine has been found to increase anxiety and rushed decision making. High dose caffeine may also disrupt sleep, damaging preparation and recovery. The deleterious effects of high dose caffeine are lower with coffee than supplements, suggesting that some of the other nutrients in coffee may lessen caffeines potency.
Caffeine is the best and most frequently used legal ergogenic aid and can be used to enhance performance and lessen the sense of fatigue.
In August 2013, I added a link to the honey made at my sisters coffee farm in Panama, Bouquet Bees and so I thought I would add a plug for the family coffee roastery here. Cast Iron Coffee specialises in hand roasting small batches of specialist coffee sourced from farms around the world.
Coffee not only contains caffeine but has many other aromatic and bioactive phytonutrients not found in supplements. Research in animal models has shown that even the smell of coffee can have performance benefits (Han-Seok Seo 2008). Light roast Scandinavian Style coffee is thought to preserve more or these phytochemicals during the roasting process, making a light roast filter roast coffee a perfect performance enhancer….. Cast Irons Colombian Cup of Excellence winner Fortuna is a delicious example….. Merry Christmas.