Caffeine is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug. From coffee to tea to sodas and even energy drinks, caffeine is a huge part of many people’s lives around the world. In fact, more than 90% of Americans consume caffeine in some form every day!

The question is, does caffeine make you swim faster? And how much (if any) should you be consuming?

We’re going to break down exactly how much caffeine is in the most popular caffeinated drinks, how caffeine affects your body, and what it means for your swimming performance.

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a psychoactive drug which can affect your mood, thinking and behavior. It’s also a stimulant that speeds up the production of nerve impulses, which can result in increased arousal.

Caffeine is naturally found in more than 60 different species of plants, including coffee plants and tea plants. It can also be chemically synthesized and added to foods, drinks and medicines.

Many people consume caffeine daily to reap the benefits of increased energy, better attention and improved alertness. But, like with most things, you can take it too far with caffeine. More on that in a bit!

Breaking Down Popular Caffeinated Beverages

Ever wonder just how much caffeine is in your favorite cup of coffee? Here’s a breakdown of the caffeine levels in a variety of beverages, from coffee to energy drinks. 

As you can see, caffeine levels can vary widely based on what you’re drinking…and how much. 

In addition to these beverages, caffeine can also be found in cocoa beans and chocolate, coffee-flavored ice cream and certain specialty products, like chewing gum. 

How Caffeine Affects Your Body

Related: How Alcohol Impacts Swimming Performance

Caffeine doesn’t just make you feel alert. It has a host of effects, from your brain to your recovery:

  • Brain: Caffeine blocks adenosine, the neurotransmitter that tells your brain it’s tired. While adenosine is blocked, dopamine production increases. 
  • Hormones: Caffeine increases circulating adrenaline, which is responsible for your fight or flight response.
  • Burns More Fat: Caffeine increases heat production in the body, which raises your body temperature and can cause you to burn more fat.
  • Spares Carb Reserves: Because your body is burning more fat, your carb reserves are spared. If you’re an endurance athlete, this can be advantageous for longer workouts or races.
  • Dehydration: Consuming high levels of caffeine and sugar, like the levels found in energy drinks. can dehydrate you, especially if you drink multiple throughout the day.
  • Poor Sleep: Drinking caffeine late in the day can make it difficult to fall asleep.

How Long Does Caffeine Stay in Your System?

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, it takes 30 to 60 minutes for caffeine to reach its peak level in the blood. 

The body can typically eliminate half of the caffeine in your system within three to five hours, but the remaining caffeine can linger for eight to 14 hours.

How Does Caffeine Impact Swimming Performance?

Exactly how you feel in the pool after consuming caffeine depends a lot on your sex, body size, body composition, hormonal functioning and caffeine tolerance. The same amount of caffeine can affect two people in completely different ways! 

That being said, caffeine does impact your output in the pool. Various studies have shown that moderate caffeine consumption can have positive effects on both aerobic and anaerobic performance, including sprinting and longer distance efforts. 

Aside from the science, though, changing up your caffeine intake before a workout or a race can affect your mental state and, as a result, your overall performance. 

If you don’t usually consume caffeine before races, but you choose to drink an energy drink 30 minutes before your race, you might waste more energy with the excess jitters and adrenaline you experience due to your low caffeine tolerance.

Or, if you decide to drink coffee the afternoon before an early morning practice, you could risk a poor night’s sleep, which will make that morning workout tougher than usual. 

Related: What Swimmers Should Eat Before, During & After Swimming

Optimal swimming performance is as much about training as it is about consistency with your routine and your nutrition, so be mindful of when you choose to increase your caffeine intake or try something new, and know that you might experience some side effects that could impact your training.

Knowing the effects of caffeine, the NCAA restricts caffeine consumption. Athletes (swimmers included!) cannot have more than 15 mcg/mL of caffeine in their urine. This equates to about 500mg of caffeine, or six to eight cups of coffee two to three hours before an event. If an athlete fails this drug test, they could face suspension for up to one year.

How Much Caffeine Should I Consume?

Ultimately, your caffeine intake will depend on your personal comfort level and tolerance. According to the Food and Drug Administration, up to 400mg of caffeine per day, or about four cups of coffee, is considered safe, but that number may vary depending on a variety of factors. 

People who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people taking certain medications may need to be more mindful of their caffeine intake.

Be mindful about your caffeine consumption, and avoid becoming dependent on your daily cup(s) of coffee just to function. If you’re drinking a lot of caffeine and decide to cut back, know that you will experience withdrawals, which might include headaches, difficulty concentrating and even flu-like symptoms. 

Moderation is key when it comes to caffeine. We aren’t telling you to cut out coffee or energy drinks cold turkey…just make sure you understand the effects caffeine has on your body, and be mindful of your consumption. 

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