Drinking a cup of coffee before your next workout may help you exercise longer and with less fatigue. Numerous studies have linked caffeine to improved athletic performance, especially in cardio-heavy endurance exercises like marathon running and cycling.
Here’s why caffeine may help improve your next workout, as well as some tips to incorporate it into your diet safely.
Caffeine May Help Improve Endurance
During exercise, muscles use carbohydrates as the primary source of fuel. Carbs are stored within the muscle cells in the form of glycogen. You may have heard of carb loading, which is a strategy used by endurance athletes to prepare for a big competition. They consume a large quantity of carbs in the days before a race to maximize the glycogen levels in their muscles.
Caffeine acts on muscle cells to use more fatty acids as fuel and to spare the use of glycogen. This conserves the muscle’s glycogen levels and allows muscles to endure exercise for longer.
Caffeine May Help Reduce Muscle Fatigue
One of caffeine’s effects is to enhance the activity of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is known for its “feel good” effects. Dopamine contributes to the pleasurable feeling you might get after enjoying your morning cup of coffee.
During exercise, caffeine’s dopamine enhancement helps alter the perception of muscle pain. In other words, it can make exercising hurt less and feel more pleasurable. In scientific studies, the rate of perceived exertion is a scale used to determine the intensity of an exercise. Caffeine has been shown to reduce the rate of perceived exertion, helping subjects power through intense exercises.
How Much Caffeine Is Needed?
It’s estimated that roughly 3 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight is all that’s needed to reap its exercise-related benefits. This translates to about one cup of coffee, with 200 mg, for someone who weighs 150 pounds (68 kg).
Before You Caffeinate
Here are a few words of caution. Caffeine acts as a diuretic and can dehydrate your body. Be sure to stay hydrated with plenty of non-caffeinated fluids while you exercise, especially in hot or humid environments.
Also, know that too much caffeine can lead to not-so-pleasant side effects, like jitteriness and a rapid heart rate. These can interfere with your ability to exercise, and can decrease your performance. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, be especially cautious before introducing it into your diet.
Have you drank caffeine before a workout? Share your thoughts in the comments below.