Endurance athletes are among those most in need of constant energy boost and performance optimization. Its reputation in being a natural energy enhancer therefore makes caffeine a regular go-to for these athletes – but how does this substance naturally benefit them, and is it safe for this group?

The American College of Sports Medicine hails coffee as the world's most widely used stimulant, coming in different forms such as coffee, tea, energy supplement, energy drink, and even chocolate. In the world of athletics, coffee is used as a potential ergogenic aid and performance enhancer with its stimulant effect on the brain and on the blood pressure, pulse, fat stores, and stomach acid production.

Here are two ways to illustrate caffeine's impact on the body, particularly on endurance training:

  • Performance – Caffeine helps mobilize your fat stores in the body, enabling it to be utilized as a primary source of fuel. The body is then able to spare glycogen, an added fuel source stored in your muscles and liver. Delaying the depletion of glycogen in the muscles effectively allows athletes to perform longer, harder, faster, and with more reps before getting stuck by fatigue. This process is most important in the first 15 minutes of activity, when caffeine can help substantively decrease glycogen depletion. While the substance gets to its highest levels in your blood up to an hour after being ingested, there are studies suggesting that consuming it at least three hours prior to exercise can be most beneficial. The reason: caffeine may have the most impact on fat stores a couple of hours after it peaks in the blood.
  • Recovery – Caffeine may aid in better recovery after athletic performance. The American Physiological Society, for instance, notes that four hours after exercise, your muscle glycogen could clamp 66 percent by ingesting a carbohydrate drink that contains caffeine, versus a non-caffeineated carbohydrate drink. The rise in muscle glycogen could translate to better recovery and help make the next round of workout or intensive activity much more efficient.

The question you may be thinking, are competitive athletes allowed to use caffeine? Athletes, according to the International Olympic Committee, can take up to 12 micrograms of caffeine per millimeter of urine before it is deemed illegal. So yes, athletes can ingest “normal” caffeine levels before competitiveness.

While side effects can be present, they largely vary from one individual to another and can be considered non-threatening if caffeine is consumed in reasonable amounts. Moderate consumption is deemed safe – provided, too, that a healthy diet and balanced lifestyle are observed.

To summarize, caffeine has emerged in research to help in athletic performance as well as recovery. But you need not be limited to choosing caffeine in just coffee, tea, or energy drinks – these are convenient forms but other options can offer maximum gains, too. Best energy supplements today, for instance, can provide the recommended amounts of caffeine for the numerous benefits to one's physical energy levels or athletic prowess.