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How Caffeine Effects Performance

by Kim Wathen, M.S. Exercise Phys/Dietitian


With all of the caffeine-laden products on the store shelves and in our hands, I believe educating ourselves regarding the effects of these products is important. Do you ever stop to think...What is caffeine, and how does it affect my body, my performance, and my children? Or, should I be drinking it on race day or even at all? This article will answer those questions.

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is one of a group of compounds called methylxanthines, which occur naturally in over 60 species of plants, including coffee beans, cocoa beans, cola nuts and tea leaves. It is naturally present in coffee, tea, cola soft drinks, cocoa and chocolate, and is added to many products we consume. Energy drinks and caffeinated waters are the most recent additions to caffeinated products we use. Caffeine is also found in combination with drugs used as stimulants, cold remedies, pain remedies, diuretics and weight control products. See this Cleveland Clinic article.

How Does Caffeine Affect My Body?

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and can produce many effects in the body. It typically increases metabolic rate, heart rate, rate of urine production. In may also improve performance and mood, help relieve headache pain, enhance alertness and reduce fatigue.

Caffeine may have detrimental effects as well as it is both psychologically and physically addictive. High levels of consumption have been linked to nervousness, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, abnormal heart rhythms and stomach upset. It may also increase the number and frequency of bowel movements. In addition, caffeine use may cause calcium to be pulled from bones, which may lead to bone loss and osteoporosis. This is an especially important consideration for children whose bones are still developing and require adequate amounts of calcium to do so.

Before using caffeine on race day, make sure that you have used caffeine extensively under a variety of training conditions and are thoroughly familiar with how your body reacts to this substance. Never try anything new on race day.

Consumed in moderation (approximately 250 mg per day), caffeine appears to be safe for most people (see chart below for amounts of caffeine in several foods and drinks). Humans do adapt to its usage, so regular and frequent consumption leads to a reduced effect. In other words, you may need higher amounts to achieve the same effect. Children should limit their intake to 100 mg per day.

How Will Caffeine Affect My Riding and Racing?

Several studies have shown caffeine to have an ergogenic effect, which means it enhances sport performance. These studies have concluded that caffeine consumption increased the free fatty acid (FFA) concentration in the blood. The increased FFA availability enhances the body's ability to use these fats as fuel during endurance activities. Using the FFA's for fuel spares muscle glycogen, the energy "reserve" contained within muscle. This would prolong endurance in sporting events. Caffeine has also been shown to increase the force of muscle contractions, which would enhance strength for a short time. Caffeine can also make exercise seem easier by decreasing the perception of fatigue. Any or all of the above will likely cause an increase in your racing performance.

Although caffeine is capable of improving sport performance it can also be the cause of decreased performance. It may cause nervousness, trembling, anxiety, heart palpitations, muscle tightness, muscle cramping, dehydration and stomach upset. Any or all of the above will likely have detrimental effects on your racing performance.

How Should I Use Caffeine?

A safe method of experimenting to determine whether caffeine is a good supplement for you would be to consume 2 to 2.5 milligrams per pound of body weight one hour before exercise. For example, a 150 pound man would consume 300 to 375 milligrams. This amount should enhance performance without producing a significant number of side effects.

Keep in mind that other ingredients in foods and drinks may change the way the caffeine affects you alone. Most "energy drinks" have high amounts of sugar and several other ingredients which will all determine how that particular drink affects you. Using caffeine pills like Vivarin or No-Doz will allow you to determine the effects of caffeine without the interaction of other ingredients.

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Bottom Line: Recommendations for the MX Athlete

Due to the fact that each person reacts differently to caffeine, as a dietitian, I do not recommend taking caffeine as a way of enhancing sport performance in motocross. A better way of improving your performance on the track is through proper training, nutrition and hydration coupled with plenty of rest. If your performance needs improvement, a thorough review of your current training and nutrition program should be done.

If you do choose to use caffeine during exercise or racing, remember this; there are many variables influencing the effect that caffeine has on the body and there is no way to tell when and if those effects will be felt. Each person will react differently. Even the amount of time you take to consume a caffeinated drink, or the length of time before an activity you take a pill, will change the way you are affected. Also, there is no way to determine when the caffeine will be gone. Therefore you stand the chance of your energy level crashing when you need energy the most . Because of these factors, caffeine use needs to be done intelligently and with caution.

Hydration is a very important factor in training and racing performance and needs to be a priority every day. As a dietitian I feel that soft drinks like Coke or Pepsi and "energy drinks" are certainly not the best choice for staying hydrated. I would not recommend these types of drinks for the serious athlete or for anyone on race day. Water and sport drinks are always a better choice. If you feel you must consume energy drinks, use them as a recreational drink not as a performance enhancer or for re-hydrating.

Before using caffeine on race day, make sure that you have used caffeine extensively under a variety of training conditions and are thoroughly familiar with how your body reacts to this substance. Never try anything new on race day.

Using Caffeine in MX: Quick Facts


  • May increase endurance
  • May increase strength of muscle contraction
  • May enhance alertness
  • Makes exercise seem easier
  • May decrease arm pump


  • May cause stomach upset, nervousness, and many other side effects
  • No way to determine when and if effects will be felt and when they will end
  • May need to continually increase dosage to feel effects
  • Many variables determine how and if caffeine will have an effect
  • May require rider to make more trips to the restroom at inconvenient times due to increased urine production along with number and frequency of bowel movement

How to Use

  • 2 to 2.5 milligrams per pound, one hour before exercising, riding, racing
  • 300-375mg for a 150 pound person
  • Use Vivarin or No-Doz tablets to eliminate effects of other ingredients
  • Experiment before race day!
  • Experiment under a variety of conditions and be familiar with how it affects you
  • Stay well hydrated

Below is a table showing caffeine content of several items. Be aware that many drinks contain 2 or more servings per can. The best way to look at the chart is to look at the mg/oz column. Notice that the amount of caffeine consumed in a 12 ounce bottle of Coke is 33.6 mg and coffee is a whopping 107.5 mg or 3 times the amount of caffeine in 4 ounces less liquid. Consume a 16 ounce Rockstar or Monster Energy drink and you have just taken in 160 mg of caffeine. Use this chart, along with the product label to make your caffeine choices wisely.

The following chart is ordered from highest to lowest caffeine (mg)/oz.

Serving (oz) Caffeine (mg) mg/oz
Vivarin 1 pill 200
No Doz 1 pill 100
No Doz, Max Strength 1 pill 200
Coffee (espresso) 1.5 77 51
Coffee (Drip) 8 144 18
Starbucks Double Shot 6.5 104 16
Coffee (Brewed) 8 107 13.4
Monster 16 160 10
Rockstar 16 160 10
Sobe Adrenaline rush 8.3 76 9.2
Full Throttle 16 144 9
Sobe No Fear 16 141 8.8
Red Bull Sugar Free 8.3 66 8
Chocolate Candy 1 8 8
Red Bull 8.3 65 7.8
Starbucks Frappuccino Mocha 9.5 71 7.5
Coffee (Instant) 8 58 7.2
Starbucks Frappuccino Vanilla
9.5 64 6.7
Chocolate Brownie 1.25 8 6.4
Hershey's Special Dark 1 bar (1.4 oz) 9 6.4
Tea (Brewed) 8 47 5.9
Tea (Iced) 8 47 5.9
Mountain Dew 12 47 3.9
Diet Coke 12 44 3.7
Arizona Green Tea Energy 16 59 3.7
Dr. Pepper 12 36 3
Tea (Green) 8 24 3
Coca Cola 12 34 2.8
Diet Dr. Pepper 12 34 2.8
Pepsi 12 31 2.6
Snapple Tea 12 31 2.6
Propel Invigorating Water 20 50 2.5
Diet Pepsi 12 28 2.3
Barq's Root Beer 12 22 2.8
Chocolate Ice Cream 6 5 0.8
Coffee (Decaf Brewed) 8 6 0.7
Chocolate Milk 8 5 0.6
Coffee (decaf, instant) 8 2 0.3
Sprite 12 0 0
Ginger Ale 12 0 0
A&W Root Beer 12 0 0

About the Author - Kim has an undergraduate degree in Dietetics from Michigan State University and began working as a personal trainer and nutrition consultant while finishing her Master of Science degree in Exercise Physiology. As a self-employed trainer and dietitian, she has the privilege of working with people at many levels of fitness. She designs custom nutrition and fitness plans based upon the client's goals and current fitness level.Visit her on Facebook or Instagram.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Mark s September 08, 2016 at 9:05 pm

    Interesting article and I have a short story. I for the most part for the past 30 or more years have tried to eat very healthy, I didn't drink or smoke and didn't drink Soda or pop depending on where you live. I mostly drank water or some kind of recovery drink like cytomax. However over the last 3 months I started loosing weight about 20 pounds to be exact. Now I was a little over weight I weight about 205 and am 6 foot tall but I work out a good bit and was in good shape. The only thing I changed in my life was I was just so tired of only drinking water and wanted something with flavor. So I started drinking a 12oz can of Pepsi at lunch and like I said I lost 20 lbs and can only think somehow it must be the caffeine. Mark

  2. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer September 09, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    I highly doubt it is the caffeine since a 12oz can of pepsi only contains 31 mg of caffeine. That's not a lot considering the most widely quoted acceptable limit for safe caffeine consumption is 400mg/day. Kudos to you on your weight loss assuming that was the goal. Thanks!

  3. Gravatar
    Racer X Virtual Trainer September 09, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    Additional References.
    Mayo Clinic - Up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. That's roughly the amount of caffeine in four cups of brewed coffee, 10 cans of cola or two "energy shot" drinks.

    Livestrong - According to the "Journal of Food Science," consuming less than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is generally regarded as safe, and some regulatory agencies have set an upper limit of caffeine intake per day at 450 milligrams.

    FDA - For healthy adults FDA has cited 400 milligrams a day—that's about four or five cups of coffee—as an amount not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects.

  4. Gravatar
    Eric September 10, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    Can anyone please elaborate on the effects of caffeine withdraws, as when a person decides not to have caffeine in their system. Anytime I decaffeinate by not drinking a cup of coffee for a few days, I and anyone else may experience the headache and possible dizziness / vertigo type feelings along with a bit of blurry vision on and off. Some people are fooled by how they are feeling when its due to a fluctuation in caffeine intake and decrease levels. There must be other people who have experienced these little side effects of caffeine level changes?

  5. Gravatar
    Kim Wathen September 16, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    Mark, it is very possible that the carbonation and the sweetness of the soda were enough to reduce cravings for awhile and so you were perhaps not eating some things or maybe eating less of some things.

  6. Gravatar
    Alex Jaroshevich September 29, 2016 at 4:11 pm

    Its all moderation, but coffee has some excellent antioxidant properties as well.

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