Pre-race caffeine may help speed post-competition recovery, according to new research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
For the study, Spanish scientists recruited 33 recreational male runners with an average age of about 40 and an average 15-K time of close to 1:06. One hour before a 15-k race, each man was given five ounces of an apple juice drink. While almost half of the concoctions were pure juice, 17 were spiked with six milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of an athlete’s body weight—enough to produce the same effect as two strong 8-ounce cups of coffee on a 150-pound person. (In endurance sports, three to six milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight is used to aid performance.)
A blood sample was taken from each man before, immediately after and two hours after the race. Scientists tested for IL-6 and IL-10 asinterleukins—markers of the body’s anti-inflammatory response system. While more of the asinterleukins were present in all the runners after the race, those who consumed caffeine had substantially higher levels.
In caffeinated runners, IL-6 levels immediately after the race were up 271 percent from pre-race levels. In non-caffeinated runners, the anti-inflammatory rose by 111 percent. Two hours after the run, IL-6 levels were back to normal in non-caffeinated runners, but remained high in those who had caffeinated. The same was true of levels of IL-10.
The findings suggest that pre-race caffeine can aid physical recovery by raising the body’s anti-inflammatory system to a higher level and encouraging anti-inflammatories to work for longer periods of time.
According to lead researcher Pedro Tauler, it is possible that coffee (rather than caffeine dissolved in juice) would have the same effect. An athlete would need about 3 milligrams per kilogram of body weight to induce similar effects. This equates to approximately 2-3 espressos.