Caffeine is part of the daily routine of most Americans – 90 % of us to be exact. Fifty-four percent of us are regular coffee drinkers (me included), and we enjoy how caffeine wakes us up and makes us more alert, but how does it affect our workouts? Can it make us work harder or cause more problems for us?
Let’s first take a simple look at how caffeine effects our bodies. Once caffeine enters the bloodstream (about 15-45 min after consumption) it blocks the adenosine receptors of the brain. These receptors are what would normally aid in relaxing the body. This blocking triggers the body to release adrenaline in the blood which gives us that alert and awake feeling. This effect lasts over an hour with just one cup of coffee.
When it comes to exercise, the effects of caffeine get more interesting. When caffeine is absorbed into the blood, the breakdown of glycogen stores (what we usually use for energy during exercise) in the muscles slows down and more fatty acids are released. With the slower release in glycogen comes more endurance. In fact only 3-6 mg of caffeine can result in more endurance. One cup of coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine.
Many tests and studies have been done on the effects of caffeine and exercise and although their are some conflicts in results, there seems to be a general consensus that caffeine does contribute to more endurance when it comes to exercise. One study reported a 12% performance enhancement due to caffeine. Some benefits we reported with short bursts of high intensity but not really for strength training or for sprinting. Also, those exercisers who do not consume caffeine on a regular basis seemed to experience more benefits.
Besides making you more alert and focused during your workout and increasing your endurance, caffeine appears to suppress the pain and discomfort of exercise. Now, remember they are referring to discomfort (muscle burn, fatigue,etc..) not pain that should be addressed such as an injury. Those types of pains should never be ignored. Caffeine also seems to aid in post workout recovery by increasing muscle glycogen.
As you can see, caffeine has some benefits, but like anything else it also has its cons. Since caffeine is a diuretic, we must be careful not to become dehydrated. It is best to drink water and coffee to avoid this. Those more sensitive to caffeine may get an upset stomach or cramping during their workout as well.
More serious and yet not completely founded concerns include rapid or irregular heartbeats and even a rise in systolic blood pressure during exercise. Obviously those with previous health conditions or those who just consume too much caffeine pre-workout should monitor these symptoms.
Have any of you noticed any effects caffeine has on your workouts?
I believe in moderation it may be helpful. Some days (even if it is just a placebo effect 😉 ), caffeine may help us push through a hard workout.
Quite frankly, I can’t imagine my morning without coffee anyway, so any added workout benefits are welcome in my opinion :).