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Caffeine Tolerance

January 20, 2021 3 min read

Caffeine Tolerance

Caffeine is an alkaloid compound found particularly in tea and coffee, other performance supplements like pre-workouts or fat burners, and energy drinks. Often, we are familiar with the use of caffeine to prevent tiredness, caffeine helps keep us awake and alert by competing with a molecule that promotes tiredness called adenosine. Caffeine prevents adenosine from binding to its receptors as it has a very similar molecular shape! So how does caffeine provide a physical performance benefit?

Benefits of Caffeine

Across the available literature, various means with which caffeine provides a physical performance benefit have been assessed primarily focusing on how it attenuates the response of the central nervous system!

  • Helps make us more alert.
  • Increases motor activity and physiological arousal whilst also reducing our perception of pain or effort.
  • Many endurance athletes turn to caffeine supplementation as it serves to reduce the body’s need for muscle glycogen storage, and in the short term prioritizes free fatty acids sparring those all-important glycogen stores for later in a race.
  • Strength athletes utilize caffeine as a means to increase strength and muscular endurance.

Effects of caffeine tolerance

However, the unfortunate truth is that many athletes overdo it when it comes to caffeine supplements on top of energy drinks or coffee consumption throughout the days and weeks! In a Review paper published by Beaumont et al. (2017) 1.5-3 milligrams of caffeine were given to test subjects every day for 28 days, these individuals were typically on low habitual caffeine doses of caffeine before being involved in this research and at the end of this study, all subjects had shown a reduction in the effectiveness of the prescribed quantities of caffeine.

Subjects underwent a 60-minute cycle test at 60% VO2 peak before sitting a 30-minute performance task. Testing was completed before the 4 weeks of caffeine consumption, at 3 weeks, and again at the of the 4 weeks.

How are caffeine supplements often administered?

Caffeine can be taken in many forms. As mentioned at the beginning of this article there are plenty of powders on the market that contain caffeine, however, most commonly, caffeine is administered via anhydrous means like capsule form. When taken in doses of around 3-7 mg per kilogram of body mass, there is an associated performance benefit of 24% (McLellan & Bell et al., 2004). As identified above individuals who take larger quantities of caffeine frequently over time are at risk of tolerance to the effects of caffeine.

Caffeine Tolerance Reset

If you find that your usual cup of joe or your pre-workout isn't providing the same jolt of focus or energy it used to provide you with, avoid switching to higher doses of caffeine supplements and consider doing a caffeine tolerance reset to feel the buzz. Since caffeine tolerance is acquired over time, then taking a caffeine detox should help reset or clear the amount of caffeine in your system. Caffeine detoxes can vary from person to person and may result into withdrawals for some cases so best ease into it.

Caffeine withdrawals may include:

  • headaches
  • fatigue; low energy
  • poor concentration
  • irritability
  • anxiety


Caffeine tolerance occurs when the effects are reduced with regular consumption where a chronically high intake of caffeine leads to an up-regulation of the adenosine receptors. Caffeine can be a strong ergogenic aid for both strength and endurance athletes if used appropriately. However, if you have a caffeine addiction you may need to remove it temporarily from your diet to re-sensitize yourself.

Be selective and when planning your training implement a specific methodical approach to caffeine use, if on certain days you are trying to prioritize strength a pre-workout supplement can give yourself the boost you need. If you are an endurance athlete you may prefer to save supplementation for days where you have time trials or longer runs to help spare those glycogen stores.

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