Does caffeine boost your workout performance? There have been a number of studies, and results are mixed. Researchers do agree that there does not seem to be a significant impact on short term activities, like sprinting. The good news is caffeine does seem to provide some benefit for endurance exercise. Read on to learn more.

How caffeine can help

woman drinking energy-drink According to researchers at Rice University, caffeine delays the body’s need to use glycogen. That boosts performance during endurance exercise because the body can then access glycogen later as needed. Using caffeine encourages the body to first burn fat for fuel. The overall benefit is you are able to exercise longer. In this case then, caffeine is a friend. Exercising longer means you are able to burn more calories and build stamina that may even lead to a personal best on the court or the track.

A study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism suggests another benefit of caffeine and exercise – increased after burn. Caffeine has been shown to increase post exercise calories burned, 15% more in the three hours after exercise, in fact.  Caffeine may also boost your workout by improving circulation, which means more oxygen to your muscles. Another benefit is the reduced perception of pain so you can push yourself just a bit more.

How caffeine can hurt

CaffeineAlthough we don’t think of it this way because it is so much a part of our daily lives, caffeine is a stimulant drug. Use affects individuals differently.  For example, some users may experience insomnia, heartburn, dehydration and anxiety, all of which can have a potentially negative impact on exercise performance. Another drawback is increased likelihood of gastrointestinal upset. Diarrhea and abdominal cramping are definitely foes of any exercise routine.

Contrary to another study suggesting coffee helps bring more oxygen to muscles, the American College of Cardiology reports that caffeine may hurt exercise by inhibiting blood flow. Adequate blood flow is important for carrying oxygen and nutrients that support exercise performance. When that flow is inhibited, performance may suffer.

How to use caffeine for exercise

  • Rice University researchers recommend you get your coffee or other caffeine source in at least 3 to 4 hours prior to your endurance event. It is worth mentioning that the American College of Sports Medicine offers conflicting advice. They recommend taking in 3 to 9 mg of caffeine per kilogram (approximately half of a pound) of body weight one hour before exercise. A 12 ounce cup of coffee has about 3mg of caffeine. To learn how to get the most benefit of caffeine for your exercise routine experiment well in advance of any planned competition.
  • Reduce or eliminate caffeine in your diet for several days before the event. Regular consumption helps your body become acclimated to the caffeine, thus reducing some of the benefits it offers for exercise. Reintroducing caffeine after a break gives you the maximum benefit because the effect is not moderated by tolerance.

I have participated in many races where runners are finishing a cup of coffee in the minutes before we head to the starting line.  I’ve learned that caffeine before a race is not right for me.  Again, caffeine can impact users in different ways. If you are interested in learning how it impacts you and if it can help your performance it may be worth trying caffeine for yourself. Just be sure to use caffeine as a part of your training routine so you know how it will impact your body and performance on race day. That would not be an ideal time to learn that caffeine is indeed a foe.