I’m planning on teaching a course on sports ethics in the near future and one of the hot topics in that field is performance enhancing substances and the criteria we use to ban such substances in sports competition.
I’m very happy though that my favourite performance drug doesn’t run afoul of any of the rules.
Like many athletes, both recreational and pro, I love my cup of coffee before riding a bike, running, rowing…
Here’s two of my favourite exercise science reporters for the NY Times on the ability of caffeine to enhance athletic performance.
Gretchen Reynolds: Scientists and many athletes have known for years, of course, that a cup of coffee before a workout jolts athletic performance, especially in endurance sports like distance running and cycling. Caffeine has been proven to increase the number of fatty acids circulating in the bloodstream, which enables people to run or pedal longer (since their muscles can absorb and burn that fat for fuel and save the body’s limited stores of carbohydrates until later in the workout). As a result, caffeine, which is legal under International Olympic Committee rules, is the most popular drug in sports. More than two-thirds of about 20,680 Olympic athletes studied for a recent report had caffeine in their urine, with use highest among triathletes, cyclists and rowers.
Gina Kolata: Caffeine, it turns out, actually works. And it is legal, one of the few performance enhancers that is not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. So even as sports stars from baseball players to cyclists to sprinters are pilloried for using performance enhancing drugs, one of the best studied performance enhancers is fine for them or anyone else to use. And it is right there in a cup of coffee or a can of soda. Exercise physiologists have studied caffeine’s effects in nearly every iteration: Does it help sprinters? Marathon runners? Cyclists? Rowers? Swimmers? Athletes whose sports involve stopping and starting like tennis players? The answers are yes and yes and yes and yes. Starting as long ago as 1978, researchers have been publishing caffeine studies. And in study after study, they concluded that caffeine actually does improve performance. In fact, some experts, like Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky of McMaster University in Canada, are just incredulous that anyone could even ask if caffeine has a performance effect. “There is so much data on this that it’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s just unequivocal that caffeine improves performance. It’s been shown in well-respected labs in multiple places around the world.”