Ever feel like the first 10 minutes of your morning run are a slog? A cup of Joe can jump-start your nervous system, slightly increasing your heart and breathing rate. These changes prepare your body for the tough workout ahead.
Research from the University of Buffalo suggests that caffeine may increase a person’s likelihood of meeting the recommendations for physical activity, as established by the American College of Sports Medicine.
The study, published in Nutrition Research, showed that sedentary adults who consumed caffeine right before a workout chose to exercise longer on a treadmill.
Caffeine increases the number of fatty acids circulating in the bloodstream. This fat can be absorbed and burned easily by muscles, therefore saving stores of carbohydrates for later in the workout. For this reason, caffeine can help people workout longer.
In the same study on sedentary adults, researchers learned that all subjects liked exercise more and more as time went on. In particular, women who took caffeine before a workout showed a marked increase in their enjoyment of exercise.
Previous studies (such as this one and this one) have shown that a dose of caffeine about an hour before exercise lowers athletes’ scores on the rated perceived exertion scale, also known as RPE. This could help explain why exercise may be more enjoyable and why people can work out longer when they consume caffeine.
Research from scientists at Coventry University in England reveals that caffeine may help you work harder during training sessions. For the study, young men were given an energy drink with caffeine or a placebo and then completed a weight-training regimen. Those who received the added boost became tired much later, completed significantly more repetitions of the exercises and felt less tired during the workout.
Caffeine increases performance through its interaction with your muscles. Calcium must be released from muscle fibers to make them contract, and caffeine can trigger electrical activity that causes a bigger burst of calcium. The result: stronger muscle contractions that can help you increase the intensity of your workout.
In the same study, researchers were surprised to find that the men who drank caffeine said they were eager to repeat the workout again soon. According to the lead author Michael Duncan, not only did caffeinated participants put more effort into their training, but they felt more mentally ready to repeat the routine.
After drinking a mix of caffeine and carbohydrates, soccer players dribbled, headed and kicked the ball more accurately, according to a study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine. The improvement is likely due to caffeine’s effect on the central nervous system.
In a laboratory study, caffeine improved high-intensity athletic performance lasting around five minutes. Researchers believe there may be a couple factors at play here: caffeine affects a muscle’s ability to allot energy and contract during anaerobic exercise, and it can reduce participants’ perceived effort.
Caffeine can also be helpful for endurance runners and cyclists. When members of these groups took a caffeine dose equivalent to two cups of coffee an hour before their workout, they showed a marked increase in performance.
Researchers believe caffeine improves endurance performance through three mechanisms: an increase in mental alertness, improved fat mobilization and a reduction in the perceived effort.
Endurance athletes have limited time to replenish their glycogen stores in between training sessions. Research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that caffeine can be a critical part of this refueling process. When test subjects consumed caffeine and carbohydrates after a workout, the amount of glycogen stored in the muscle was 60 percent higher than when carbohydrates were consumed alone. Researchers still need to conduct more studies on this topic, as the amount of caffeine used in the study was too high for athletes to consume on a daily basis.
A small study published in The Journal of Pain suggests that two cups of coffee can reduce post-workout pain in women by up to 48 percent. According to co-author Patrick O’Connor, caffeine had a more significant affect than the drugs aspirin or ibuprofen among women who were not regular caffeine users. It likely works by blocking the body’s receptors for adenosine, a chemical released in response to inflammation.
In a study published in The Journal of Applied Physiology, a group of recreational athletes were given a caffeine capsule or a placebo and then put through a grueling workout. Not only did the caffeinated group perform 16 percent better than their non-caffeinated counterparts, but they also had significantly less potassium buildup in the fluid between their muscles after the session. The researchers believe potassium buildup is involved in the type of fatigue created by anaerobic activities, such as weight training or team sports.