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Caffeine: All you need to know

Caffeine is consumed recreationally throughout the world. In the UK caffeine is most commonly consumed in hot beverages such as tea and coffee, as caffeine is a natural component of tea leaves and coffee beans.

Caffeine's use in sport is well established due to its ergogenic (performance enhancing) benefits. Athletes consume caffeine in many different forms such as sports drinks, gels, gum and tablets.

The benefits of caffeine

Caffeine has been linked with several performance enhancing benefits, with countless studies showing positive enhancements in both recreational and elite athletes. Benefits include reduced perceived exertion (it doesn't feel like you are working as hard as you actually are), enhanced cognitive functions which in turn aids decision making, increased energy levels and reduced fatigue.

The performance enhancing benefits of caffeine are in fact so well established that until recently, high levels of consumption were considered illegal for professional athletes by the IOC. Now however, it has been recognised that caffeine is regularly consumed as part of the normal diet of most athletes, and it is near impossible to distinguish between normal dietary consumption and the consumption of caffeine for deliberate performance enhancement.

How much caffeine should I take?

The rate at which we absorb and tolerate caffeine is very individual, but beneficial effects have been shown at levels between 3mg per kg of bodyweight and 9mg per kg of bodyweight.

Choosing a tablet that provides around 50mg caffeine (equivalent to a cup of tea) enables you to tailor your caffeine intake to a level that suits you.

When should I take caffeine?

Caffeine tablets should be taken approximately 30 minutes before exercise as this is the typical time they take to be absorbed by the body. Caffeine in gum form absorbs much quicker, so should be taken anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes before you wish to feel the benefits.

Caffeine can stay in your system for a considerable amount of time, so consumption after 6pm should be avoided as this can disrupt sleep.

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Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace
medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.