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Exploring the benefits of caffeine

Being successful at playing a sport, whether it is baseball, football or soccer, takes a great deal of focus and concentration. Getting an early start on the day to work out at the gym and eat a healthy breakfast helps increase your awareness and gives your brain the blood and oxygen it needs to stay on alert. However, sometimes even a hearty meal at the beginning of the day and a quick jog isn't enough to get into the competitive mindset. Some athletes are turning to caffeine to improve their performance. In precise dosages and at certain times of the day, caffeine can be an effective boost while you are training or in a game.

How do athletes integrate caffeine into their daily regimen?
While the timing of ingestion of caffeine for it to be effective varies from sport to sport, many professional athletes prefer to take a certain dosage during extended physical activity. Sarah Piampiano, a world-class triathlete, has competed in the Ironman U.S. Championship in Manhattan and the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. Only in her second year as a professional, Piampiano is widely regarded as one of the most dominant triathletes in the world.

In Hawaii, Piampiano strategically used caffeine during each leg of the Ironman race - the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2 mile marathon. Before the race, she took an energy gel that contained 50 milligrams of caffeine, and for the biking leg, she ingested 50 milligrams of caffeine per hour. Piampiano supplemented her caffeine intake with 300-calorie energy packs.

How does caffeine affect athletic performance?
According to Matthew Ganio, an exercise physiologist at the University of Arkansas Department of Health, Human Perofrmance and Recreation, the average athlete can experience substantial improvements in performance. These improvements are dependent on the time the caffeine is ingested and the dose at which it's taken. In 2009, Ganio and his colleagues conducted a massive study that observed the effects of caffeine on athletes in timed sports like cycling, rowing, running and cross-country skiing. Ganio discovered that most of the athletes improved their times by as much as 3 percent. According to his results, a recreational runner who regularly completes a 6-mile run in 40 minutes can cut down that time by 72 seconds by using caffeine. Cyclists competing in a one-hour time trial could shave more than a minute off their record-best.

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