Coffee is a stimulant, meaning it increases focus and alertness. Many of us drink it in the morning or during the working day to improve our mental performance. Interestingly, caffeine may also have stimulating affects that improve physical performance during exercise.

We asked three experts in sports science and cardiology, 'Does coffee help boost exercise performance?', here's what we found out.

What is the data on caffeine and sports performance?

Dr Neil Clarke, an expert in sport sciences from Coventry University in the UK, says "caffeine is one of the most researched substances reported to help athletes perform better and train longer and harder. As a result, professional and amateur sportspeople often take it as a performance-enhancing 'ergogenic' aids for a wide range of activities."

Several research papers have shown that caffeine improves performance in running, cycling, football, basketball, tennis, golf and weightlifting.

Dr Clarke says "the evidence for caffeine's effects on sprinting is more mixed. Limited improvements have been found for events lasting under three minutes. But for races of around ten seconds, caffeine can improve peak power output, speed, and strength."

Does drinking coffee have the same effect as caffeine pills?

Most of the studies focus on the effect of caffeine pills rather than coffee drinking. Measuring how coffee influences sport performance is more complicated as caffeine content varies from cup to cup. However, there have been some studies looking specifically at coffee's impact.

Dr Clarke says "an increasing number of studies have also shown that coffee can be used as an alternative to caffeine to improve cycling and competitive running performance, and produce results similar to pure caffeine. In fact, coffee may even be more effective at improving resistance exercise than caffeine alone."

Are there any caveats?

As with any nutritional research, there are some caveats and complications to keep in mind.

Dr Neil Schwartz, an expert in sports science from South Alabama University in the USA, says "individuals vary in their response to caffeine/coffee intake. If tolerated well, coffee can help both mental and physical performance." Variation between how individuals respond to caffeine lies both in their genes and in their usual caffeine intake.

There may also be some downsides to coffee drinking. Caffeine is connected with anxiety and reduced sleep which may have a detrimental effect on sports performance.

Dr Clarke says "you could end up feeling nauseated and jittery at a time when, if you are competing, you are already feeling anxious."

The takeaway: Caffeine in multiple forms has been shown to improve sports performance, but the effects vary between individuals.

Article based on 3 expert answers to this question: Does coffee help boost exercise performance?

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