Many people can attest to the power of coffee to get you going in the morning. But is it possible that your daily cup of java might have medicinal properties that reduce exercise-induced muscle pain?
Researchers at the University of Georgia in Athens think so after studying the effects of caffeine on a group of 16 male college students. Participants in the study ingested either caffeine or a placebo 1 hour before undertaking 30 minutes of moderately intense cycling exercise. Perceptions of leg muscle pain were recorded during the exercise bouts, along with work rate, heart rate and oxygen uptake.
The riders who ingested the caffeine reported feeling significantly less pain compared with those who took the placebo. “This observation suggests that prior reports showing [that] caffeine improves endurance exercise performance might be partially explained by caffeine’s hypoalgesic properties,” the study authors concluded in the August 2003 issue of The Journal of Pain.
Another study involving male riders also suggests that caffeine ingestion can increase sports endurance. The riders who were given doses of caffeine before exercise had significantly increased time until exhaustion, compared with those who received a placebo. The study was reported in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2003; 35 ).
But how much caffeine is too much? According to IDEA contributing editor Susan Kundrat, MS, RD, LD, you could see a benefit at levels as low as 3 milligrams (mg) per kilogram of body weight. “That’s about 200 mg for a 150-pound athlete,” says Kundrat. “Of course, the key is to try [caffeine] in training situations before using it in competition, to be sure the athlete is in tune with how his or her body reacts.” Kundrat says that relatively low doses of caffeine are unlikely to result in dehydration and that it is best to ingest the caffeine 60 minutes before exercising for the most benefit.
But athletes should remember that caffeine has a diuretic effect, which can make for an uncomfortable situation if a restroom is not nearby!