If you don’t like to exercise or want more energy when you do or simply want to get a better workout, then try a cup of coffee. Sure, you’ve heard it before caffeine helps improve athletic performance. But the new evidence in favour of the wonder drug is so overwhelming that if you’re not swigging some form of caffeine before your workout, you’re doing your body a disservice. Don’t believe us? Here are six reasons why you should consider coffee, tea, or Red Bull before, during, and even after your next trip to the gym.
Caffeine improves your mood and focus, making you want to work out
You know what a cup of coffee or spot of tea can do for an afternoon slump. Not surprisingly, it does the exact same for your workout. “Caffeine simply makes us feel better so that we can soldier on with our activities for longer before our productivity, concentration, or motivation wane,” says Louise Burke, one of the world’s leading researchers on how caffeine affects physical performance. Drink coffee, slurp a caffeinated gel, or have flat soda (carbonation can cause stomach upset), and your mental focus will also double says Burke, giving you the self-discipline to hit the gym and stay there.
Caffeine stimulates your body to work harder
Not only will you be happier during a workout, you’ll also be stronger if you get your caffeine on before exercising. Recent research shows that using caffeine before a workout can help your muscles produce more force. Here’s how it works: Caffeine lowers your body’s levels of adenosine – a substance that builds up in your muscles during exercise and causes them to contract less forcibly. If you have less adenosine, you’ll have stronger muscle contractions and you’ll produce more force, whether you’re running, cycling, shooting hoops, or lifting weights.
Caffeine stalls fatigue so you can exercise longer and harder
While caffeine can do wonders to improve your mood and alertness, it offers an even bigger benefit to your workout by making you last longer. “The most sustained and valuable feature of caffeine is that it reduces our perception of fatigue, effort, or pain,” says Burke. In other words, you’ll feel less tired and more energized to run, swim, lift weights, or whack tennis balls after a cup of coffee, Red Bull, or energy gel.
Caffeine fuels your muscles
If you’ve ever tried to exercise after having not eaten in a while, you know the results can be disastrous. That’s because your body has no ready source of fuel to power working muscles. Yet you don’t have to slam a sandwich: Caffeine can also help give your body energy for a workout. “Studies show that caffeine can increase levels of blood fats,” allowing your body to use fat instead of carbs for fuel during exercise, says Burke. This lets your body save glycogen stores – your muscles’ primary fuel source – for later in your workout when you need them.
Caffeine helps speed recovery after a workout
Coffee after a workout? Absolutely. A recent study found that athletes who washed down some caffeine with a food high in carbs – think a cup coffee with a bagel – after a workout were able to fuel their tired muscles better than those who just ate the carbs. Researchers say a post-workout jolt can help increase your body’s uptake of sugar, which is needed to refuel depleted muscles. And the effect is significant: Athletes in the study who combined caffeine with a meal after a workout had 66 percent more glycogen in their muscles four hours after exercising than those who just ate a meal.
You don’t need as much caffeine as you think to get optimal effects
The biggest revelation in recent caffeine research, says Burke, is that you don’t need to slug six cups of coffee before your workouts to have a body-blowing effect. “We used to think that caffeine needed to be taken in a fairly high dose, about an hour before a workout. But these days, we know that caffeine is far more versatile – it can work just as well in a whole range of protocols.” What this means in the real work, she says, is that you’ll still get as a big of a boost if you have one cup before the gym. You can also improve your performance by taking caffeine almost any time before your exercise – and even during your workout. So which type of caffeine is best? She says that doesn’t matter: “Caffeine is caffeine whether it comes from a sports gel, a coffee, an energy drink, or a caffeine pill.” So choose the source you like, and experiment with timing to find out what works best for you. If you have blood pressure or heart rate problems, speak with your doctor before using caffeine as a performance enhancer.