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Effects of Caffeine on Training and Competition

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Caffeine keeps the world turning. Some people base their entire productive output potential on the amount of caffeine they consume. It is a drug, complete with highs, lows and addictions, but it is legal and socially acceptable.

 Many athletes utilize caffeine daily, not only in coffee and energy drinks to get through the daily grind, but pills, supplements and foods. It can even serve as a fat burner and appetite suppressant, which is especially inviting for fighters cutting weight.

Studies generally suggest that a moderate dose of three milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight may improve athletic performance and endurance. In an 84- kilogram or 185-pound man this would be about 252 milligrams. For reference, a Starbucks grandee coffee has about 330 milligrams. At this level research shows that performance my increase, but very little if any metabolic changes occur.

There are a number of reasons that fighters would choose to supplement their caffeine intake aside from being able to stay awake outside of the long grueling hours of practice. Here are some of them.

 Effects on Workout and Performance

At one time caffeine was on the Olympics’ list of forbidden substances, with the blood-level equivalent of eight cups of coffee serving as enough to get an athlete banned from the Games. Though caffeine is no longer banned, the International Olympic Committee still tests for the substance, reserving the right to re-ban caffeine if it starts finding elevated levels in a large number of competitors.

The effects of caffeine typically last five to six hours without the energy drain of a fight camp workout. Even then, the boost should last through the entire session. Studies suggest that caffeine’s effects on the central nervous system may contribute to the ability to push harder in short duration activities and slightly bunt pain perception. The vast majority of pre-workout supplements contain between 100-350 milligrams of caffeine.

Reduced Muscle Fatigue and Lactic Acid Build

Caffeine reduces the muscles’ consumption of glycogen, which is the stored energy used up during exercise. There is a limited amount of glycogen available in the muscle, and once it is used up, muscle fatigue sets in. Caffeine assists the body in tapping into its own fat reserves as energy, which reduces the glycogen rate. This process is called “glycogen sparring” and serves to delay muscle fatigue.

One of caffeine’s short-term benefits is a reduction in lactic acid build up. As glycogen is depleted lactic acid builds up in the muscle. This is the cause of the burning sensation you feel in your muscles during and after a workout. A University of Illinois study conducted in 2009 found that 300 milligrams of caffeine taken prior to a workout reduced the amount of burning felt by participants in the study.

Consume with Caution 

Caffeine stimulation affects each person differently. This is why it is important to test this and any supplement before the big show. For some fighters having a cup or two of coffee or a pre-workouts supplement before entering the cage may give them an edge, for others it may simply increase nervous jitters, increase heart rate and thus lead to the athlete fatiguing more quickly. Caffeine also elevates your heart rate and blood pressure. This can be dangerous in excess and for those who already have cardiac or blood pressure issues. It can also serve as a diuretic and it is important to remember to stay hydrated through any physical exercise. The last thing to consider is the quality of sleep you get when consuming caffeine. Even if you are only having one or two cups a day, the stimulating affects may linger causing sleep to be less restful.

Building a Tolerance

The habitual use of caffeine can reduce its effects. The body treats caffeine like any other drug, so while the initial effects of caffeine can be very noticeable, they diminish over time. A morning cup of joe may not cause this tolerance to build, but five or six a day surely will.

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Bryanna Fissori
Bryanna (Pink Ranger) Fissori is a bantamweight MMA fighter based out of Honolulu, Hawaii. Originally from California, she has called the island of Oahu home for a number of years and holds two amateur championship belt titles there. Fissori holds a degree in law and has been working as a professional journalist for over a decade. Her emphasis is in health, business and legal analysis. Her knowledge of the sport, coupled with her cage experience and educations makes her a credible source and she is excited to share her knowledge.