New study reiterates performance enhancing effect of coffee

Another study shows the benefit of caffeine on performance, and this time women were included too

Stop and smell the coffee (Daniel Gould)

A new study has demonstrated the positive effect caffeine can have on performance, in both men and women.

With much of the prior research carried out using male participants only, the scientists at Coventry University included a 50/50 gender split in their study, discovering that caffeine ingestion improved cycling speed over a 5 kilometre test.

>>> Does sports science only tell us half the story? 

The results, published in the journal Nutrients found that 19 male and 19 female participants averaged 9 seconds faster when compared with a placebo (300ml of water) and 6 seconds faster vs the control test, having ingested caffeine.

The caffeine dosage used was 3mg per kilogram of body weight.

In the tests, men improved by 2.1 per cent with caffeine compared to with the placebo, whilst women improved by 1.8 per cent. Compared to the control, men improved 1.2 per cent and women 1.1 per cent - with researchers concluding that the caffeine affected both genders to a "similar magnitude".


The participants were restricted in coffee consumption for 12 hours before the test.

The study, lead by Associate Professor Neil Clarke at the School of Life Sciences at Coventry University lends its support to several other investigations which have showed similar results, though typically only assessing men's performance.

A 2014 study carried out in a Spanish lab gave a group of amateurs a combo of caffeine and carbohydrate gel and found they rode significantly better than others who had smaller doses or none at all.

The University of Alicante researchers gave the riders 7mg per kilo of body weight, 70 minutes before the experiment. They found riders performed significantly better in a ramp test, holding on for 33.8 seconds longer after riding at 70 per cent of their V02 maximum for an hour.

Those who had just 2mg per kilo didn't perform any better than those who had no caffeine at all, their extension of time to exhaustion just 0.4s longer.

Birmingham University study opted for a middle ground, showing that 5mg per kilo of body weight was enough caffeine to give riders an advantage in a 45 minute time trial.

Interestingly, the Birmingham trial showed that instant coffee is just as effective as a special caffeine drink – as long as each it is drunk an hour beforehand.

So, if you know your body weight, just multiply it roughly by 0.6 to see how much caffeine is going to help you an hour down the road. If you’re a lightweight, you’ll need about 35mg. Heavyweights may need up to 60mg.

The trouble is, while caffeine drinks are often labelled with their caffeine quantities, coffee isn’t. It varies from brand to brand and even within the same chain of coffee shops.

Tests by Glasgow University show that some shop-bought espressos contain up to 300mg and others only 50mg. The Department of Health reckons an ordinary mug of filter coffee has 140mg of caffeine – although they can be far weaker.

If you want to know you're getting your dosage right, it's worth looking into the brand True Start. The Bristol based brewer promises to provide exactly 95mg per 2g serving. 

So the answer’s simple. One good strong cup should be more than enough to boost your ride. Just don’t overdo it – health experts reckon 400mg a day is the safe maximum.

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Cycling Weekly's Digital Editor Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper before spending a few years at Evans Cycles, then combining the two with a career in cycling journalism.

When not typing or testing, Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.

Favourite bikes include a custom carbon Werking road bike as well as the Specialized Tarmac SL6.