Caffeine and ephedrine: Physiological, metabolic and performance-enhancing effects

Faidon Magkos, Stavros A. Kavouras

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Preparations containing caffeine and ephedrine have become increasingly popular among sportspersons in recent years as a means to enhance athletic performance. This is due to a slowly accumulating body of evidence suggesting that combination of the two drugs may be more efficacious than each one alone. Caffeine is a compound with documented ergogenicity in various exercise modalities, while ephedrine and related alkaloids have not been shown, as yet, to result in any significant performance improvements. Caffeine-ephedrine mixtures, however, have been reported in several instances to confer a greater ergogenic benefit than either drug by itself. Although data are limited and heterogeneous in nature to allow for reaching consensus, the increase in performance is a rather uniform finding as it has been observed during submaximal steady-state aerobic exercise, short- and long-distance running, maximal and supramaximal anaerobic cycling, as well as weight lifting. From the metabolic point of view, combined ingestion of caffeine and ephedrine has been observed to increase blood glucose and lactate concentrations during exercise, wheareas qualitatively similar effects on lipid fuels (free fatty acids and glycerol) are less pronounced. In parallel, epinephrine and dopamine concentrations are significantly increased, wheareas the effects on norepinephrine are less clear. With respect to pulmonary gas exchange during short-term intense exercise, no physiologically significant effects have been reported following ingestion of caffeine, ephedrine or their combination. Yet, during longer and/or more demanding efforts, some sporadic enhancements have indeed been shown. On the other hand, a relatively consistent cardiovascular manifestation of the latter preparation is an increase in heart rate, in addition to that caused by exercise alone. Finally, evidence to date strongly suggests that caffeine and ephedrine combined are quite effective in decreasing the rating of perceived exertion and this seems to be independent of the type of activity being performed. In general, our knowledge and understanding of the physiological, metabolic and performance-enhancing effects of caffeine-ephedrine mixtures are still in their infancy. Research in this field is probably hampered by sound ethical concerns that preclude administration of potentially hazardous substances to human volunteers. In contrast, while it is certainly true that caffeine and especially ephedrine have been associated with several acute adverse effects on health, athletes do not seem to be concerned with these, as long as they perceive that their performance will improve. In light of the fact that caffeine and ephedra alkaloids, but not ephedrine itself, have been removed from the list of banned substances, their use in sports can be expected to rise considerably in the foreseeable future. Caffeine-ephedra mixtures may thus become one of most popular ergogenic aids in the years to come and while they may indeed prove to be one of the most effective ones, and probably one of the few legal ones, whether they also turn out to be one of the most dangerous ones awaits to be witnessed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)871-889
Number of pages19
JournalSports Medicine
Issue number13
StatePublished - Nov 24 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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