There’s been a long standing debate as to whether daily caffeine use increases tolerance and therefore making caffeine supplementation prior to competition less effective.
To date, the research has been somewhat inconsistent…some research says that daily caffeine supplementation doesn’t increase tolerance, where some research say it does.
But most athletes won’t rely on caffeine supplementation daily, however they will highly likely drink coffee.
So the question we need to answer is; can the ‘flat white club’ still enjoy their daily chin wags over a 160mL cup of caffeine greatness and still have the same performance gains from caffeine on the weekend?
Clarke and Richardson (2021) recruited 27 men and 19 women to complete a 5km time trial 60 minutes after drinking coffee providing 3mg/kg caffeine or a placebo.
For reference, 3mg/kg of caffeine for a 75kg cyclist is 225mg. One espresso shot from Starbucks is ~75mg caffeine….therefore the participants had a relatively good hit (triple shot) of caffeine before the 5km test.
That being said, they used Nescafe original, not Starbucks…
The 46 cyclists were further divided into low and high habitual caffeine users. Low caffeine intake was define as <3mg/kg per day and high was defined as >6mg/kg per day….i.e. that same 75kg cyclist would usually have equivalent or upwards of 6 x espresso shots/day.
Long story short, after the cyclists completed the 5km time trial, those who supplemented with caffeine significantly improved their TT performances by 8-12 seconds (~1.8%), where there was no real difference between low and high caffeine users (0.1%).
Interestingly, the concept of caffeine tolerance from habitual caffeine users came from a study in 1982 where they gave rats 20mg/kg…perhaps not relevant to humans (equivalent to 1,500mg of caffeine, or 20 shots of espresso). Lol.
Knowing this, I wouldn’t advise abstaining from caffeine in the days leading up to a competition as withdrawal symptoms can negatively impact mood and preparation.
That being said, caffeine intake should be limited in the late afternoon to avoid sleep disruptions. This recommendation becomes increasingly important on the day prior to big events where sleep quality is extremely important.
Therefore, caffeine control isn’t necessarily advised to manage tolerance levels, but to manage sleep quality.
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