Back when I considered myself athletic, I would ride centuries each weekend (that is cyclist lingo for 100+ mile rides). This was no small feat, as by the end of the days labors I was pretty much spent and only capable of sleeping and squatting in front of the fridge to forage for the necessary nourishment. But before, and sometimes during, the ride I would usually pop one ibuprofen with a small espresso chaser. This was my breakfast of champions, whereas one of my riding buddies (who was of Irish heritage) swore that a 16-ounce can of Guinness was the only thing one peddler would need to maintain on two wheels. We saw things quite differently, but nevertheless, rode about at the same pace – me caffeinated and he…I guess kind of lit.
Now there is nothing I love more than vindication, except maybe vindication served up with another fine reason to be drinking coffee. Well, according to a report in The New York Times, drinking coffee, besides being a delicious and stimulating way to start your day, is also a pretty damn effective way to keep your endurance level up when engaged in anaerobic activities, like team sports and weight training. It is no secret that it is the caffeine, and not the naturally occurring antioxidants or milky foam, that makes for a more productive and galvanized workout. As reported, researchers at Coventry University in England recently recruited 13 fit young men and asked them to repeat a standard weight-training gym regimen on several occasions. An hour before one workout, the men consumed a sugar-free energy drink containing caffeine. An hour before another, they drank the same beverage, minus the caffeine. Then the men lifted, pressed and squatted, performing each exercise until they were exhausted. But exhaustion came much later for those lucky few who were sufficiently caffeinated. “Essentially, we found that with the caffeinated drink, the person felt more able to invest effort,” says Michael Duncan, a senior lecturer in sports science at the University of Exeter in England and lead author of the study. “They would put more work into the training session, and when the session was finished, in the presence of the caffeinated drink, they were more psychologically ready to go again.”
The explanation for all of this is somewhat technical (having to do with “antagonizes adenosine” and muscle contractions) and not all that well understood, but the results showed that volunteers performed 16% better than their non-caffeinated counterparts. In addition, the ingestion of caffeine had a somewhat remarkable effect on the central nervous system and on those parts of the brain involved in mood, alertness and fine motor coordination during exercise. Subjects in this study performed, not with just more endurance, but more accuracy and focus as well (this is hardly a surprise to the caffeine devoted). The only tricky thing is finding and perfecting the ideal dose, as many of us can attest that too much caffeine is rarely a good thing.
So while the jury is still out on the impact of beer swilling on the athletic pursuit, it seems that coffee and other caffeinated beverages (at least in moderation) show positive results for those looking to maximize their workout.
Have you found caffeine to be beneficial to your energy level and endurance when it comes to exercise, sports, and strenuous activity? Have you experienced the downside? Is there something better that is not a controlled substance?