- One of the most common ingredients in sports nutritional supplements is caffeine.
- In moderate amounts, caffeine can improve performance in some sports, depending on the individual athlete.
- But too much caffeine can harm your health, making you more likely to overheat or develop heart problems.
Taking a new supplement to make faster gains at the gym or to perform better in your sport can be tempting. Sports supplements, including pre-workouts, protein powders, and various pills, have become popular ways for some people to boost their exercise routines.
But Stefan Pasiakos, director of the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, told Business Insider that “anything that’s supposed to be related to stimulants needs to be given greater appreciation and attention,” including sports supplements that contain caffeine.
This is because, when taken in large doses, the caffeine in sports supplements can cause dangerous health effects such as nausea or vomiting, irregular heartbeats, and even death.
Some caffeine can improve athletic performance
Moderate caffeine has been shown to improve performance.
“Caffeine is, for the most part, pretty harmless,” Bill Gurley, lead researcher at the University of Mississippi’s Natural Products Research Center, previously told Business Insider.
Takes a little caffeine before traininglike a cup of coffee or green tea can improve your performance and even make your workout more enjoyable.
In 2021The International Society of Sports Nutrition noted that caffeine consumption appeared to be most beneficial during aerobic endurance activities such as cycling, running and swimming. The benefits also depended largely on the individual athlete, genetics and lifestyle factors.
The most useful dose was found to be 3-6 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. For someone who weighs 150 pounds, that would be about 200-400 mg of caffeine, or about two to four cups of coffee.
But consuming more than this amount of caffeine has not been found to further enhance athletic performance and could harm your health.
Too much caffeine can be risky
When the amount of caffeine consumed exceeds 400 mg, things can be dangerous even for otherwise healthy people. Too much caffeine can cause vomiting, convulsions, and a fast, irregular heartbeat. At very high doses, it can cause loss of consciousness and death.
In 2018, a man in Australia died after drinking a highly caffeinated protein shake.
In 2021 a The 20-year-old said he had a heart attack after swallowing a dry scoop of a highly caffeinated pre-workout supplement.
One of the problems with sports supplements, Gurley said, is that “you get a lot of caffeine really quickly.”
It’s also easier to overdose on caffeine as a supplement because you only need to take one or two pills or a scoop of powder versus drinking 15 cups of coffee.
Caffeine in supplements can lead to overheating
The use of stimulants, including caffeinated supplements, can also make it harder to detect overheating. It’s a risk that increases when people use stimulants and do heavy exercise or exercise in hot or humid conditions.
“Exercising alone puts a significant strain on your cardiovascular system,” Gurley said. “Then you throw in stimulants that are known to have adverse cardiovascular effects, and it’s just a bad combination.”
Exercise supplements are not as regulated as prescription drugs
Another problem, both Gurley and Pasiakos said, is that workout supplements often contain many different ingredients and don’t have to declare exactly what they contain. This is because supplements are not as strictly regulated as prescription drugs.
“There are a number of products that claim to increase performance, increase energy, and many of them have proprietary blends,” Pasiakos said. But products that contain proprietary blends “don’t have to declare what’s in them.”
So if you’re planning to start a new workout routine soon or just continue an old one, think twice before choosing a caffeine-containing workout supplement.
“When I was younger, I tried all kinds of performance-enhancing supplements, most of which contained some form of stimulant,” Pasiakos said. “That has changed, though, and I know there’s no substitute for good nutrition, exercise and sleep.”
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