Caffeine and exercise performance. An update

Sports Med. 1993 Jan;15(1):14-23. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199315010-00003.


Three principal cellular mechanisms have been proposed to explain the ergogenic potential of caffeine during exercise: (a) increased myofilament affinity for calcium and/or increased release of calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum in skeletal muscle; (b) cellular actions caused by accumulation of cyclic-3',5'-adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) in various tissues including skeletal muscle and adipocytes; and (c) cellular actions mediated by competitive inhibition of adenosine receptors in the central nervous system and somatic cells. The relative importance of each of the above mechanisms in explaining in vivo physiological effects of caffeine during exercise continues to be debated. However, growing evidence suggests that inhibition of adenosine receptors is one of the most important, if not the most important, mechanism to explain the physiological effects of caffeine at nontoxic plasma concentrations. Numerous animal studies using high caffeine doses have reported increased force development in isolated skeletal muscle in both in vitro and in situ preparations. In contrast, in vivo human studies have not consistently shown caffeine to enhance muscular performance during high intensity, short term exercise. Further, recent evidence supports previous work that shows caffeine does not improve performance during short term incremental exercise. Although controversy exists, the major part of published evidence evaluating performance supports the notion that caffeine is ergogenic during prolonged (> 30 min), moderate intensity (approximately 75 to 80% VO2max) exercise. The mechanism to explain these findings may be linked to a caffeine-mediated glycogen sparing effect secondary to an increased rate of lipolysis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caffeine / pharmacology*
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Muscles / drug effects
  • Muscles / metabolism
  • Physical Endurance / drug effects
  • Task Performance and Analysis*


  • Caffeine