British Coffee Association - Physical Performance
Physical Performance

Physical Performance

Coffee makes exercise feel easier

Caffeine improves attention and reduces symptoms of fatigue

When it comes to exercise and sport, coffee consumption gives us the motivation to ‘go for it’, helping us to exercise harder and longer.1,2,3 As well as enabling you to perform for 30% longer, caffeine, which naturally occurs in coffee, improves alertness and the ability to sustain motor skills to make exercise feel easier, positively impacting our persistence, vigour and output levels.1,2,3
Consuming the equivalent of 3-4mg of caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight one hour prior to exercise improves endurance and performance4 in cycling,2,5,6 high intensity running,7 repeated sprinting8 and sports such as football and rugby. An average mug of instant coffee contains approximately 100mg of caffeine.9

BCA Physical Performance

Some athletes consume caffeine to enhance their endurance, alertness and motor skills. These benefits result from the actions of caffeine in the brain where it reduces the chemical messages that normally induce fatigue and stimulates energy production and fat oxidation.3
Mike Gleeson, a leading professor in exercise biochemistry at Loughborough University, says:
“Studies show that if you consume enough caffeine at the right time, it can enhance your physical performance. New research shows black instant coffee consumed one hour prior to exercise can improve endurance performance in a similar way to pure caffeine (of equivalent amounts), which suggests coffee may be a very effective way to consume caffeine before exercise.5
“Studies have found caffeine consumption has a greater effect on physical performance in those who are recreationally active than in trained athletes, and can improve cycling,2,5,6 running7,8 and high-intensity sports such as football and rugby over a 80-90 minute period.”
Coffee is a popular drink in the UK with around 70 million cups consumed every day.10 The overwhelming weight of scientific information suggests that moderate coffee consumption of four to five cups per day (400mg of caffeine) can contribute to a healthy, balanced diet and may confer some health benefits.9,11,12
Contrary to popular belief, coffee is also an important source of fluid in the diet13 and exercise lovers who drink it do not need to compensate by increasing their intake of water.
This will come as welcome news to the 1.4 million people that have taken up some form of exercise or sport in the afterglow of the 2012 Olympics14 and those buoyed by the year of sports we will enjoy in 2014, including the FIFA World Cup and the Commonwealth Games.
Professor Mike’s key insights on coffee and making exercise feel easier
  • Drink coffee one hour before morning or lunchtime exercise. If you want to exercise in the afternoon or evening, enjoy a coffee with your lunch to avoid the effect of the lunchtime dip
  • For competitive sports, consuming coffee improves attention to detail, observance of your surroundings, and reduces symptoms of fatigue through caffeine’s effect on the central nervous system3
  • Hydration is important for endurance exercise performance. Coffee, when consumed in moderation (four to five cups of coffee or 400mg of caffeine per day), provides similar hydrating qualities to water and does not cause dehydration13
For pregnant women the NHS recommends consuming no more than 200mg of caffeine per day from all sources.15

1 Burke, L.M. (2008). Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, 33(6): 1319-1334.
2 Goldstein, E.R. et al (2010). Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(1):5.
3 Meeusen, R. et al (2013). Nestle Nutrition Institute Workshop Series, 76: 1-12.
4 EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2011). EFSA Journal 2011;9(4):2053 [24 pp.]. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2011.2053
5 Hodgson, A.B. et al (2013). PLoS One, 8(4): e59561.
6 McNaughton, L.R. et al (2008). International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 3(2): 157-163.
7 Glaister, M. et al (2008). Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 40(10): 1835-1840.
8 Mohr, M. et al (2011). Journal of Applied Physiology, 111(5): 1372-1379.
9 Food Standards Agency (2004). Survey of Caffeine Levels in Hot Beverages.
10 Mintel Coffee UK (2008). Report.
11 Ruxton, C.H.S. (2008). British Nutrition Foundation Nutrition Bulletin, 33.
12 Dorea, J.G. et al (2005). British Journal of Nutrition, 93.
13 Killer, S.C. et al (2014). PLoS One 9(1): e84154.
14 Gov UK (2013). Inspired by 2012 (Accessed April 2014).
15 NHS Choices (2014). Accessed January 2014.