Do You Need to Abstain from Coffee to Get a Performance Boost?

Sports experts have known for years that consumption of coffee (caffeine) before exercise and sports improves performance. However, the belief was that you had to knock off the coffee and probably endure headaches for a week or two before your event in order for this to work. So, do you really need to abstain from coffee to get a performance boost when you ingest caffeine before an event? An article in The New York Times tells us that you can boost your workouts even if you are a regular coffee drinker.

Caffeine users tend to become habituated to its effects, as those of us who have watched our morning consumption creep up by a cup or three can attest.

So athletes typically have been advised to quit drinking coffee or anything else that contains caffeine for most of the week before a major competition, on the theory that doing so should reduce their habituation and amplify the impacts of caffeine on the day of the event.

But Bruno Gualano, a professor of physiology and nutrition at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, was unconvinced. A recreational cyclist and committed coffee drinker – “as a good Brazilian, coffee is part of my diet,” he says – he thought it possible that athletes could benefit from taking caffeine before an event, even if they had not abstained in the days beforehand.

The coffee drinking Brazilian professor put this to the test and reported the results in the Journal of Applied Physiology. The bottom line is that both steady coffee drinkers and those who have not had a cup for some time get the same performance boost from drinking coffee before a workout.

Performance effects of acute caffeine supplementation during a roughly 30 min cycling time trial performance were not influenced by the level of habitual caffeine consumption.

Participants in the study reported how much coffee they drank and how often.  Those who received caffeine before their workout did better than those who did not receive caffeine and prior consumption made no difference.

Coffee and Athletic Performance

A few years ago we looked at whether coffee enhances athletic performance and why.

We know that coffee wakes you up if you are sleepy. This is probably more important in in interactive sports like tennis, soccer, basketball, etc. where it is important to pay attention no matter how tired you are. But, how does coffee enhance athletic performance in sports like long distance running or weight lifting? Here is the Cliff Notes version.

  • Via a series of chemical regulatory pathways in the human body the caffeine in coffee affects the regulation of glycogen, sugars and lipid metabolism and stimulates the release of adrenaline.
  • Coffee can be effective to enhance performance when ingested as close as fifteen minutes before exercise or competition although an hour before is ideal to insure complete absorption and initiation of the regulatory pathways the help coffee enhance athletic performance.
  • Coffee is effective in enhancing athletic performance in moderate amounts, three to six milligrams per kilogram of body weight and larger amounts do not appear to help.
  • An eight ounce cup of brewed coffee contains from 100 to 200 milligrams of caffeine.
  • A 154 pound runner weighs 70 kilograms.
  • Since three milligrams per kilogram times seventy kilograms comes to just over 210 milligrams it turns out that one stiff cup of coffee taken within an hour of performance will likely enhance athletic performance.
  • Two cups may be better but three will be a waste of time.

The Brazilian study confirms the fact that drinking coffee or taking a caffeine pill before sports helps increase performance. The new addition to our coffee knowledge is that you don’t have to abstain from coffee to get a performance boost.

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