A swig of coffee may ward off daytime sleepiness, but new research shows it could help with something more important: Your exercise performance.
According to a study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, people who drank two to three cups of coffee before their daily workout had enhanced leg endurance–although, for reasons not yet explained, it didn’t affect their arms.
Still, the effects warrant recommending caffeine as a pre-exercise stimulant, say researchers.
“Consumption of a 5-milligram-per-kilogram body weight dose of caffeine– which is the equivalent of maybe two to three cups of coffee depending upon how much you weigh and what kind of coffee it is–improves cycling performance if you ride the bike with your legs,” says Christopher Black, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of Health and Exercise Science at the University of Oklahoma. “But, that same dose does not improve cycling performance if you ride the bike with your arms. And that’s the big, real-world performance measure of things.”
Performing two experiments, researchers first had 14 participants test out their maximal voluntary strength and motor-unit recruitment of the knee extensors, two factors involved in their leg strength and endurance. Researchers then gave them a 5-mg/kg dose of either caffeine or placebo and tested them again after 60 minutes had elapsed. They also tested how it affected their strength after completing a 40 minute workout, which included cycling and extensive use of their legs.
As it turned out, caffeine made a big difference, increasing strength in the knee extensors.
Next, researchers held a second study where 12 participants again consumed either a caffeine tablet or placebo. They were then asked to exercise as hard as they can.
Looking at these results, researchers wanted to see if it affected muscle pain caused by strenuous exercise–and it did. In fact, it eliminated a lot of their pain, though those who took placebo didn’t experience the same benefits.
It did not eliminate this pain if the participants exercised at their max effort, however.
“When we asked them to do that at about 60% of their maximal ability–that’s fairly similar to what a lot of people would train at, that’s kind of a jog to a somewhat brisk jog to a lot of people–it did reduce pain, and it did reduce perception of effort,” says Black. “When we increased that to a heavier exercise intensity, then it didn’t lower perception of effort, and it did not lower pain levels.”
While researchers still aren’t sure why caffeine causes these effects, they do say it’s a good idea to recommend it–especially if you’re planning on engaging in a strength training workout. Taken before exercise, it has the potential to boost your workout–in a major way.
“Absolutely, they should drink caffeine,” says Black. “They should take caffeine in any possible form before exercising.”
Readers: Do you take anything to boost your exercise performance?