Coffee - Our Beloved Drink Part IV

Coffee - Our Beloved Drink Part IV

August 05, 2013 0 Comments

For our last discussion of coffee, we will turn our attention to its role in performance-enhancement (ergogenic aid). The mighty bean has the reputed benefits of improving physical endurance and anaerobic performance, but many are concerned about effects such as dehydration, which could be detrimental. In this instalment we’ll address various concerns relating to coffee and athletic performance, using current studies published on the subject.


The Dehydration Question

First, in addressing the subject of dehydration, conventional wisdom tends to hold that coffee’s dehydrating effects could pose serious problems for athletes and very active people. However, this common knowledge doesn’t seem to hold up to scrutiny. Most available studies have found that caffeine intake up to 400mg per day (about 4 cups of brewed coffee) didn’t produce dehydration, even in people that exercised regularly while testing was conducted. An extensive study out of the University of Connecticut that measured various indicators of hydration (fluid, renal, electrolyte) found that up to 6 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight did not cause dehydration. Further research has also confirmed that caffeine does not reduce hydration, cause an electrolyte imbalance, nor does it cause the body to overheat during exercise (or have any effect on heat tolerance during exercise at all, for that matter). 

The Endurance Effect

Some of the literature on improved endurance performance argues that caffeine has this effect through increasing fat oxidation. However, various studies have demonstrated this to be unlikely. One possible reason for caffeine’s endurance enhancing effects could be through the boost to endorphin response. A study conducted on men from the US Naval and Marine Corps found that ingesting caffeine 90 minutes before exercise didn’t spare muscle glycogen, but did lower the threshold for endorphin and cortisol release. This essentially means that exercise is made more tolerable.

Assisting Anaerobic Training

Coffee also has significant effects on anaerobic performance, with particular benefits to speed and interval training. A recent article of Sports Medicine discusses a study out of Texas A&M University which found that caffeine’s response on adenosine receptors (which affect neurotransmission, and sensations such as pain and arousal) has the effect of dampening pain perception. Researchers argue that this could help the firing rate of motor units, potentially allowing for stronger and longer muscle contractions. Essentially, by affecting the central nervous system, caffeine allows for lower perceived exertion and higher pain tolerance.

Resistance Training

Finally, with regard to resistance training, the research supports that which many recreational trainees have known for nearly a century as caffeine’s ability to enhance muscular work has been researched and doucmented since the early 1900s.

We see the benefits in three distinct areas: neural drive and motivation to train (mood), force production (strength) as well as its ability to ameliorate fatigue.

In research out of the Human Performance Laboratory at Coventry University, we find that caffeine ingestion enhances performance in short-term, resistance exercise to failure and produces favorable changes in mood state response to exercise compared to a placebo. In the Bench Press exercise, participants completed significantly more repetitions to failure and lifted significantly greater weight in the caffeine condition compared to the placebo condition.

Also, from the same lab, caffeine ingestion has been found to enhance muscular strength performance and reduces upper body muscle pain perception immediately following a bout of high-intensity resistance exercise to failure.

To corroborate with the above, research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medical Science and Sports used a meta-analytic approach to examine the effects of caffeine ingestion on ratings of perceived exertion (RPE).  The results demonstrated that caffeine reduces RPE during exercise, potentially in part, explaining the subsequent ergogenic effects of caffeine on performance - in this study, caffeine improved exercise performance by 11.2%.  Essentially helping the athelte to feel less pain and thusly, train harder and break through self-imposed pain barriers.

Research published in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine, looked at the ergogenic effect of caffeine on mood, reaction time, and anearobic power amongst elite Judoists. The results revealed an increase in anxiety and the vigor*, a reduction of the simple reaction time, and an improvement of the peak and mean powers during the Wingate test (a brutal test of anaerobic power).

*Coach’s Note: Experiencing slight increases in “anxiety and vigor” as noted in the above studio is an excellent thing for training.  If any of you have performed a lower-body training session with me in the Private Studio, then you understand how this feeling of anxiety can actually be of benefit to you.

Bottom line: Common knowledge that coffee causes dehydration and overheating is not supported by academic studies and the benefits of caffeine consumption can help nearly all facets of endurance, anaerobic, and resistance training performance.

Drink your coffee and train hard. Drinking coffee prior to training simply improves your sessions.


Armstrong LE, Pumerantz AC, Roti MW, Judelson DA, Watson G, Dias JC, Sokmen B, Casa DJ, Maresh CM, Lieberman H, Kellogg M. “Fluid, electrolyte, and renal indices of hydration during 11 days of controlled caffeine consumption.” Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2005 Jun;15(3):252-65.

Davis JK, Green JM. “Caffeine and anaerobic performance: ergogenic value and mechanisms of action.” Sports Med. 2009;39(10):813-32

C. H. S Ruxton, “The impact of caffeine on mood, cognitive function, performance and hydration: a review of benefits and risks.” Nutrition Bulletin Volume 33, Issue 1, pages 15–25, March 2008

Graham TE, Battram DS, Dela F, El-Sohemy A, Thong FS. “Does caffeine alter muscle carbohydrate and fat metabolism during exercise?” Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008 Dec;33(6):1311-8.

Didier Laurent, Kevin E. Schneider, William K. Prusaczyk, Carole Franklin, Suzanne M. Vogel, Martin Krssak, Kitt Falk Petersen, Harold W. Goforth and Gerald I. Shulman “Effects of Caffeine on Muscle Glycogen Utilization and the Neuroendocrine Axis during Exercise.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism June 1, 2000 vol. 85 no. 6 2170-2175

Duncan MJ, Oxford SW. “The effect of caffeine ingestion on mood state and bench press performance to failure.” Human Performance Laboratory, Department of Biomolecular and Sports Sciences, Coventry University, Coventry, United Kingdom. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Jan;25(1):178-85

Duncan MJ, Oxford SW. “Acute caffeine ingestion enhances performance and dampens muscle pain following resistance exercise to failure.” Human Performance Laboratory, Department of Biomolecular and Sports Sciences, Coventry University, Coventry, United Kingdom. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2012 Jun;52(3):280-5.

Souissi M, Abedelmalek S, Chtourou H, Atheymen R, Hakim A, Sahnoun Z. “Effects of morning caffeine’ ingestion on mood States, simple reaction time, and short-term maximal performance on elite judoists.” Asian J Sports Med. 2012 Sep;3(3):161-8.

Doherty M, Smith PM. “Effects of caffeine ingestion on rating of perceived exertion during and after exercise: a meta-analysis.” Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2005 Apr;15(2):69-78.


There are 0 comments for this entry. Leave a comment below »

Leave a comment. *Required

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.