From an athletic perspective, caffeine is considered an ergogenic aid. Ergogenic aids are known to enhance mood, improve alertness and cognitive function, and even heighten athletic performance. Think of caffeine as your body’s fuel igniter. It blocks adenosine, a neurotransmitter that when under normal conditions, tells your body it’s time to rest. When adenosine receptors are blocked, the body is “tricked” into feeling energized.
Caffeine can also heighten concentration, which improves your ability to learn new choreography. Research even supports caffeine’s ability to mobilize fat and spare muscle glycogen (quick reminder: glycogen is a readily available but limited fuel source for dancers). The sparing of glycogen enables muscles to work harder for longer periods, which further reduces one’s perceived level of effort. Think about your ability to hold a développé for an even longer period!
But despite these pros, caffeine has its flaws. Excess amounts can cause insomnia and an increased heart rate, both of which can negatively affect a dancer’s performance. This is why we recommend that dancers refrain from drinking caffeine 6 hours before going to bed. And although caffeine can reduce a dancer’s perceived level of effort, overdoing it or dancing through an injury is never recommended. Furthermore, your coffee habit should never replace a meal or snack, both of which are opportunities to eat a variety of nourishing macro-and micronutrients.
If you’re a dancer who needs your morning dose of caffeine, then you might be wondering whether your daily habit is benefiting your performance or hindering it. And with lots of opinions, some dancers might feel the pressure to give up coffee (and caffeine) altogether. Let’s address a few common questions before you finalize your decision.
How Much Is Okay?
One cup of coffee contains 75-100 milligrams of caffeine and decaffeinated coffee contains about 4 milligrams. It is recommended that adults consume no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine daily. For teenagers 12-18 years old, no more than 100 milligrams per day. So dancers: you’re looking at 1-2 cups max per day (2-4 cups if your drink of choice is caffeinated tea).
Fun fact: caffeine isn’t technically “addicting” and in moderate amounts, it’s considered generally safe. However, for those who drink caffeine regularly, a tolerance can build and cause symptoms like irritability, headache, fatigue, and agitation upon withdrawal. Remember that coffee and tea aren’t your only sources of caffeine. Soda, chocolate, and energy drinks are common culprits as well. Consider all sources when assessing how much caffeine you’re consuming in a day. If you’re feeling extra jittery and having a hard time sleeping, then you might need to reassess your caffeine intake.
What About Energy Drinks?
Technically considered a “dietary supplement,” there is very little regulation behind energy drinks. This means that the back-of-the-package label might not be accurate (learn more about supplements here). Energy drinks have been found to contain up to 500mg of caffeine in a single serving! This can easily add up. Therefore, skip the energy drinks and focus on a balanced pre-performance fueling plan for optimal performance.
Will It Stunt My Growth?
When metabolized, excess amounts of caffeine might result in urine calcium losses. This can negatively impact the amount of calcium available for building strong bones. The good news? As long as you have adequate calcium and vitamin D in your diet, a moderate amount of caffeine each day wouldn’t be problematic.
Does It Dehydrate?
Though once thought to be a diuretic, caffeinated beverages don’t actually dehydrate us. There is a mild diuretic effect, but not enough to cause dehydration. Furthermore, drinking coffee or tea is technically counted towards your overall fluid intake. But remember, you’ll want to cap your caffeine intake for the reasons mentioned above and since dancers need more than 1-2 cups of fluids per day to stay hydrated, then coffee or tea shouldn’t be your sole fluid source.
Bottom line: A moderate amount of caffeine (such as that found in 1-2 cups of coffee per day) can benefit a dancer’s performance ability. But make sure you’re not overdoing it. Drinking one cup of coffee or two cups of tea about an hour prior to dancing is suggested to reap these benefits and last, always drink with a meal as true fuel comes from your nutrient mix. The maximum effect of caffeine usually occurs after 30 minutes from ingestion and can last in your blood from 4-6 hours. A quick tip: Since coffee establishments (like Starbucks) offer large sizes. Choose a “short,” especially if having more than one in a day. A “short” contains 8 ounces while a regular small (or “tall”) contains 12 ounces.
Article written with the help from student Caitlin Alfano. Expert reviewed, edited, and finalized by Rachel Fine.