By Marina Renton
Wondering whether you should forgo your Starbucks run in favor of a cross-country run before work? According to a study just out in the June issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, no need to give up your morning cup (or two) of coffee for a trip to the gym. In fact, the caffeine could enhance your performance — particularly your legwork.
The study is titled “Caffeine’s Ergogenic Effects on Cycling: Neuromuscular and Perceptual Factors.” (Vocabulary note: “Ergogenic” means “enhancing physical performance.”) It consisted of two experiments in which young adults consumed caffeine — equivalent to between two and three cups of coffee — and then cycled using their legs and arms.
The researchers found that caffeine improved leg muscle performance but not arm muscle performance, and it decreased sensations of pain and perceived effort in both legs and arms when the exercise was at a moderate intensity level.
The takeaway? Barring any special circumstances — like being adversely affected by caffeine or having heart trouble — you needn’t hesitate to caffeinate before you exercise.
I spoke with Christopher Black, assistant professor of Health and Exercise Science at the University of Oklahoma and lead author of the study. Our conversation, lightly edited:
Could you summarize the study’s results?
There are multiple parts to the study but, in general, here’s what we found: Consumption of a 5-milligram-per-kilogram body weight dose of caffeine — which is the equivalent of maybe two to three cups of coffee depending upon how much you weigh and what kind of coffee it is — improves cycling performance if you ride the bike with your legs. But, that same dose does not improve cycling performance if you ride the bike with your arms. And that’s the big, real-world performance measure of things.
We ascribe that difference of effect to the fact that caffeine improved people’s strength in their legs but not in their arms. And it improved that strength by allowing them to turn on more of their muscle.
In what form were people given the caffeine? Continue reading