How does caffeine effect your shooting?

Coffee: friend or foe? Ethan Lowry discusses the effects of caffeine on your shooting

Those of us who are involved in shooting sports often find we need to set our alarm clock for some pretty unsociable hours. Pest control and stalking are probably the worst offenders, but clay shooting isn’t far behind, especially if you shoot competitively.

Brewing a cup of coffee is often the first thing we do after the alarm goes off, and if it isn’t then we often make time to buy one before work. Sometimes before lunch we can get through two, or maybe even three cups of the stuff.

Caffeine is by far the world’s most popular drug. We all know someone who we can quote as saying “I couldn’t go a day without coffee!” or “Don’t talk to me before I’ve had coffee!”

But how does caffeine affect our bodies? Can it affect our shooting? Keeping awake is probably the most common reason for consuming caffeine, but wakefulness isn’t the only effect it has on the body. Look at the box (right) to see a more comprehensive summary of how caffeine can affect you. 

To put you at ease, you should know that to elicit the negative effects (right) most people would have to consume a very high dose of caffeine – although there are exceptions.

The World Health Organisation states that the upper threshold for safe caffeine consumption is 400mg per day, which equates to about four cups of coffee. Those with medical conditions should always be aware of how their condition could interact with caffeine, but for the majority of the population there are no risks at all. That’s not to say it won’t affect our shooting though; the question is whether the effect will be positive or negative.

An important thing to know about caffeine is that it is a drug with diminishing returns. The more frequently we consume it, the more we require to achieve the same effects, until eventually we feel that we can’t go without it.

Thankfully it’s quite an easy habit to knock on the head if it ever does impact your health or your shooting. 

Hand-eye coordination

When a clay launches from the trap our eyes immediately begin tracking where it is coming from, how fast it is going, what direction it is traveling in, and how far away is it.

At the same time our whole bodies are acting accordingly. Our torso turns, our arms and shoulders are raised, and our hands and fingers get ready to pull the trigger. It’s strange breaking down shooting like that, but it’s even stranger to think how our diet can affect this process.

Caffeine has been shown to improve peripheral hand-eye-coordination, which is of obvious benefit to clay shooters. The added benefit of increased alertness when you hear that clay being released from the trap means that caffeine will most certainly help keep our reactions sharp.

A lot of people drink coffee on shoot days without worrying at all, but maybe it’s worth a second thought

Sleep

Shooting – especially competitive shooting – can be physically and mentally fatiguing. Mental performance, including your ability to calculate all the parameters of making a shot, is inherently linked to the quality and quantity of our sleep.

Caffeine might help to wake you in the morning, but remember that it will also affect how tired you are when you go to bed. If you drink coffee before bed, it will take around 45 minutes for the caffeine to be absorbed into your body.

It will then stay in your bloodstream for at least six hours. This means that if you consume a cup of coffee around 9pm, it’s still having an effect at 2am.

Think about your evening caffeine habits. Then consider the quality of your sleep. Are you waking up groggy each morning? Is it nearly lunch time before you’re fully awake?

Focusing on technique first and foremost will have a far more profound effect on your score than your caffeine intake

Using coffee in this scenario to compensate for a lack of sleep will be detrimental to your health. Caffeine may alleviate the feeling of tiredness, but your body still needs sleep to recover from the stresses of life. There is no getting around this. In fact, this is where caffeine consumption can become unhealthy. 

This tiredness, if not corrected properly through appropriate sleep, will most definitely affect your shooting performance, no matter how much caffeine you consume. 

Competition use

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) fully allows the use of caffeine in sporting scenarios, so there are no concerns there. It is safe to use and can have benefits in terms of hand-eye coordination and alertness. With that said, each individual differs in their tolerance to the drug and how it effects them.

If you plan to see how consuming coffee or energy drinks affects your shooting performance, avoid drinking them in the week leading up to your competition shoot.

The most important secret to preparing for a shoot is making sure you’re well rested so you’re naturally alert on the day

You want to ensure that you’re in the optimum state of mind and physical condition before the big day. If you want to supplement with caffeine do so several weeks before a competition, or even better do it during the off season. Caffeine usage is very much an individual choice, and so while this advice stems from published research, bear in mind that everyone is different. 

Some may be cynical, especially those who having been drinking caffeine and shooting all their lives. It all depends on the context. If you take your competitive shooting seriously and want to ensure you are performing at your absolute best, then correct use of caffeine may provide the extra edge you need to get onto the podium.

For the average shooter, however, it’s unlikely to have any significant effect. Instead focus of technique first and foremost; get your practice hours in and review the quality of your sleep if fatigue is an issue. These are more important by far than concerns about coffee.

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