Caffeine is regularly consumed to boost performance during exercise. Whether you’re an athlete or it’s just a hobby, drinking coffee before exercise, or even taking caffeine as a supplement, can seemingly boost your performance. Is this true or just placebo? Here, we delve into research that explores how caffeine benefits exercise.
How caffeine boosts energy
Caffeine has as somewhat similar structure to adenosine, which binds to receptors that tell our body to slow down by making us sleepy and drowsy. Caffeine binds to these receptors, preventing adenosine from activating our drowsy signals as we burn energy.
This can increase alertness, allow the brain to work uninterrupted, and lift your mood. Until the caffeine wears off and we crash, that is.
Moreover, caffeine is a stimulant. This means it increases activity in your brain and nervous system and increases the circulation of chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline in your body. Commonly, this is experienced as a boost in mental alertness and physical energy.
How caffeine benefits exercise
Whether you’re drinking coffee before exercise or consuming a caffeinated pre-workout supplement, caffeine can boost your energy and alertness. But does this produce results? Let’s look at what MDPI researchers have found when they’ve investigated how caffeine benefits exercise.
An article in Nutrients determines that high doses of caffeine can increase muscle strength in recreational weight trainers.
The authors randomly assigned recreational weight trainers into moderate caffeine, high caffeine, and placebo groups. They measured their bench press, squat, and deadlift performances.
Surprisingly, the authors found that a moderate dose of caffeine did not significantly improve strength output. However, for all three exercises, a higher dose of caffeine did show significant strength-related benefits compared to the placebo.
There remains a lot of debate about caffeine’s ability to boost strength, but this study indicates that caffeine’s potential may depend on taking higher doses (within a safe dosage range, of course). They suggest that the increase in strength may be related to increases in muscle fibre recruitment and muscle power triggered by the higher caffeine dosages.
So, for strength training, higher doses of caffeine may boost strength performance. But keep in mind caffeine tolerance can develop and higher doses can trigger negative side effects in some.
An article in Biology explores whether caffeine improves repeated sprint performance in athletes.
Specifically, they looked at low and moderate doses of caffeine and measured the sprinters’ heart rate, lactic acid, glucose, and perceived rates of exertion. Looking at repeated sprint exercises allowed them to investigate caffeine’s effectiveness in frequent and repetitive all-out exercises with short recovery periods in a competitive environment.
They found that both low and moderate doses of caffeine improved the peak power output attained by the participants during the repeated sprint test. This was even true in regular coffee drinkers.
Interestingly, they found that, though the sprinters’ blood lactate levels were higher, their perceived fatigue remained the same. This suggests that they exerted more power after consuming caffeine but their perception of effort did not change. The authors suggest this could be related to the increased activity in the brain.
However, there was no improvement in the sprints with 20-second rest intervals (as opposed to the 90-second intervals). This shows that the value of rest remains important even with caffeine consumption. In short, this study demonstrates how caffeine can benefit exercise even in low and moderate doses in repeated sprints.
An article in Muscles examines the effects of caffeine supplementation on the recovery of professional football players. Recovery is essential for letting the body repair and strengthen between workouts, especially for athletes. Caffeine’s effect in recovery remains unclear, even though it can greatly influence feelings of fatigue.
So, for seven games, the authors gave the football players either caffeine or placebo, consuming it 30 minutes before, during, and after the games. They measured the footballers’ blood and heart rates and also asked them to rate their perceived exertion and recovery.
Surprisingly, none of the recovery markers showed significant differences with or without caffeine supplementation. The authors were concerned caffeine’s fatigue-reducing effects could cause overtraining, but caffeine supplementation did not differ from the placebo. Therefore, caffeine does not seem to negatively impact recovery from exercise.
Understanding caffeine’s role in exercise
To summarise, whilst there remains a lot of uncertainty about how caffeine benefits exercise, research can provide insights into how consuming caffeine via supplements or drinking coffee before exercise affects us. For example, high doses of caffeine can boost strength training performance, low-to-moderate doses can boost sprint speed, and caffeine does not seem to negatively affect recovery.
So, caffeine can help to boost your performance in exercise, depending on the dose and type of activity. Remember to stay hydrated and not consume too much caffeine, especially if you are prone to anxiety or any other adverse reactions to caffeine.
If you’d like to learn more about boosting your health, we have plenty of content available. Why not begin with Five Things Influencing Your Gut Microbiota and How, which looks at the complex factors shaping our microbiome and how you can positively influence them.