Caffeinated drinks increase endurance during long events such as a marathon, triathalon or bicycle race. A study from the University of Birmingham in England shows that caffeine helps the body use more carbohydrates from drinks that you take during exercise (Journal of Applied Physiology, June 2006). Those who took sugared drinks with caffeine were able to absorb and use 26 percent more of the ingested sugar than those who took the same drinks without caffeine.

Previous studies show that caffeine helps athletes run faster in both short and long-distance races. In short races, it makes athletes faster by causing the brain to send messages along nerves to cause a greater percentage of muscle fibers to contract at the same time. In longer races, it delays fatigue by preserving stored muscle sugar. Muscles get their energy from sugar and fat in the bloodstream, and from sugar, fat and protein stored in the muscles. When muscles run out of their stored sugar, they hurt and become more difficult to coordinate. Caffeine causes muscles to burn more fat, thus sparing stored muscle sugar to delay fatigue.

Nobody really knows how much caffeine you can take in without harming yourself. At rest, caffeine is a diuretic, but during exercise it does not increase urination. Caffeine is a potent stimulant that can cause irregular heartbeats in people who already have heart disease, and raise blood pressure in people with hypertension. Most research shows that it doesn’t take much more than one or two soft drinks to increase endurance. Caffeine loses its beneficial effects with repeated exposure, so athletes who want to gain maximum advantage from caffeine during competition should avoid drinking caffeinated beverages when they are not exercising.

Checked 9/28/08