Caffeine and Exercise

Let’s start from the top. We all know that caffeine is found in coffee and tea, and we talk about getting our daily ‘caffeine fix’ but what actually is that mystical property we so crave? 

In basic terms caffeine is a compound, which is found especially in tea and coffee plants and is known to stimulate the central nervous system.

When we ingest caffeine, it can be absorbed in as quickly as 20 minutes, but usually in around 45-60 minutes. Caffeine increases blood pressure and pulse rate, fatty acids are released into the bloodstream and stomach acid production is increased.

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So how does this give you a better workout?

Fat as fuel:
Caffeine has been shown to increase the amount of fat burned as fuel. In a study of nine competitive cyclists, it was found that those given caffeine before a workout had increased measurements of ‘plasma free fatty acids, glycerol and respiratory exchange ratios’ which was shown by higher rates of lipid (fat) metabolism. What does that mean? Caffeine encourages working muscles to use fat as fuel.

Improves endurance:
By encouraging our bodies to use fat as fuel, caffeine has the effect of prolonging our glycogen stores (could be as much as 50%), which allows us to work out that little bit longer and harder.

Covers Fatigue
Due to its properties of keeping us feeling more awake and energised, plus its effects on muscle, caffeine can give us a boost through our perceived tiredness. This could, of course, be mental, but that cup of coffee before your workout might just see you thought that last extra set.

Increases Focus
Caffeine promotes increased activity in the frontal lobe of the brain. The areas affected are those involved in concentration and attention.

Post or Pre-Workout?

Research published by the American Physiological Society found that consuming a caffeine/carb combo led to a 66% increase in muscle glycogen four hours after intense, glycogen-depleting exercise. You will remember glycogen stores as that ‘bank’ that is often filled by carb-loading by those undertaking endurance exercises such as marathons. So what does this actually mean? By replenishing your depleted glycogen stores, your recovery time is cut.

What are the other benefits?

In a study of the effects of caffeine on mice, Coventry University suggested that caffeine could help offset the loss of muscle strength that comes with ageing. Meaning that drinking coffee or tea in moderation could help reduce the risk of age-related injuries.

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So what are the top tips for caffeine as a pre-workout?

  • Keep your cup count down: you don’t need to be drinking eight cups a day. Save your daily cup for an effective time to boost your workout.
  • As caffeine also stimulates your gut, make sure you've experimented before having for the first time before a workout – you don’t want to be caught short!
  • Make sure your source of caffeine is a heathy one. Energy drinks are not good sources due to that fact that they contain a lot of other harmful ingredients and can cause significant heart problems.
  • It’s not just about coffee! Matcha is a source of caffeine, as well as being loaded with other benefits.
  • Don’t let it interfere with your sleep. Sleep and recovery is incredibly important to your exercise routine. Be sure to allow yourself enough time before bed to counteract the effects of caffeine on your system.
  • Drink plenty of water and continue a balanced diet.
  • Make sure you’re safe to drink. If you’ve reacted badly in the past, or are currently taking medication that may cause problems when mixed with caffeine, step away from the coffee! Also if you're pregnant or have any heart problems, you should significantly limit the amount of caffeine you have.

If in any doubt as to whether you should not be having caffeine, speak to your GP.

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