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How Drinking Coffee Can Boost Athletic Performance

Tuesday, September 06, 2016


Every now and then, a new super musclefood or protein supplement will take the public limelight claiming to hold the magic key to unlock our full health and fitness potential.

However few, if any, can compete with arguably the world’s most popular beverage: the lovely taste of coffee infused with nature’s natural kicker… caffeine.

Caffeine is a strong stimulant which has been shown to bolster both mental and physical capabilities in athletes and everyday working people.

But how you may ask? Let’s take a closer look shall we!

How caffeine works:

Caffeine has been known to change the neurotransmitters in the brain. For instance, when you drink a normal cup of coffee (which, for an average size, contains up to 25mg of caffeine), the presence of the caffeine automatically blocks a chemical called adenosine.

Adenosine is a natural neuromodulator which plays a key role in making you feel sleepy. This in turn increases your mental alertness and increases your threshold for pain allowing you to concentrate longer and maintain greater intensity during exercise. Perfect for athletes!

That’s not all... 

Drinking coffee is also associated with a number of physiological benefits including fat loss. 

Studies have suggested that due to the powerful properties of caffeine, a cup of coffee, in effect, stimulates the central nervous system (CNS) which releases fatty acids into the bloodstream to be metabolised by the muscles as fuel for energy. Say what!?

Not only is a cup of coffee warm and reinvigorating, it is also a super aid for optimal performance on the track, at the gym and even in the office.

Why is it so beneficial?

…One word, antioxidants.

Coffee beans contain naturally occurring vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which are crucial to maintaining our overall health and wellbeing by warding off harmful free radicals.

B-complex vitamins, manganese, potassium, calcium and riboflavin are just a few compounds that ooze in your average brew. These properties are vital for going the distance physically and mentally as our body requires a steady stream of antioxidants to meet the rigours of stress and physical intensity.

If all else fails, drink coffee for a:

Better workout

The natural secretion of stimulatory hormones after a cup of coffee has been associated with improving the quality of exercise. For instance, caffeine has been known to increase the “flight or fight” hormone epinephrine, which is a fancy term for adrenaline. 

In an exercise environment, such as lifting heavy weights, this hormone (which is controlled by the adrenal glands) has a positive effect on maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) leading to better compound lifts such as the bench press and squats.

Better still, in a study conducted across various sports including rugby and football (soccer), athletes who consumed at least 3mg of caffeine reported greater running distance and jump height. 

Greater recovery

Coffee is one of the best beverages to take when trying to offset the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) experienced up to 24 hours - 72 hours after a strenuous workout. 

When you have completed a vigorous training session, your body would have naturally depleted its glycogen stores. As a result, a high intake of carbohydrates and sugar is needed to repair and refuel. 

Research carried out on competitive cyclists showed that when coffee was consumed with carbohydrates and sugar, it led to a much faster uptake by the blood allowing for quicker replenishment and improved muscle recovery. 

In turn, this resulted in a recovery rate as high as 66% 4 hours after a training session versus those who merely had a carbohydrate-rich meal (who will undoubtedly remain sore for much, much longer!)

Boost in endurance

Caffeine found in coffee is a big contributor to stalling the impact of fatigue (as briefly mentioned earlier). 

The increased ability to go beyond your usual threshold for pain is a key factor in what makes a warm cup of coffee a great ergogenic for competitive performance. This is particularly the case where athletes are engaged in sports that require greater mental and physical effort such as swimming, rowing and running.

In six studies carried out on high-performing athletes, three studies reported that caffeine found in one cup of coffee greatly reduced physical exertion during performance. 

The athletes were also able to complete a timed trial of their sport under controlled conditions 3.1% faster than if caffeine was not present in their bloodstream.

So there you have it

Continually given an unwarranted bad rap, a warm cuppa will not only get you through the dreary mornings, but it could also be crucial in getting you past the finish line.

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