Drinking a cup of plain ol’ black coffee before your workout will boost your athletic performance. Loads of scientific evidence says so. Many scientists, coaches and trainers further believe that, in order to fully benefit from a pre-workout cup of joe, one must coffee-fast in preparation. (Thus preventing your body from becoming habituated to the effects of caffeine.) Needless to say, coffee addicts don’t take too kindly to this assertion — among them Bruno Gualano, biking enthusiast, coffee lover and, conveniently, physiology and nutrition professor at the University of São Paulo in Brazil.
Thus, Gualano set out to prove the coffee withholders wrong. His research, which appears in the newest Journal of Applied Physiology, suggests that those who partake of the stuff daily can still get a performance buzz when needed.
To test his theory, Gualano recruited 40 competitive male cyclists to participate in a study. He divided the bikers into three groups: those with a low caffeine intake (less than one cup of coffee, tea, cola, Red Bull, etc. per day), those with a moderate intake (the equivalent of about two cups of coffee per day), and those will a relatively high intake (three cups of coffee or more per day).
He then asked each group to return to the lab three times to complete three time trials. During the time trials, each cyclist rode as hard as they could until they burned 450 calories. Each task took about 30 minutes, each time the riders were asked not to eat or drink anything between the time they woke and the time they reported to the lab.
During one round, each rider took a 400-milligram caffeine pill, the equivalent of around four cups of brew, an hour before the trial. (That poor low-intake group must’ve been thinking in caps lock for days.) During another round, the riders took a placebo pill. The third time, they took nothing at all. Nearly every rider performed best after taking the caffeine pill.
When under the influence of caffeine, participants rode approximately 3.3 percent faster than their baseline performance. The placebo pill caused participants to ride about 2.2 percent faster than their baseline.
Now for the kicker: Coffee enthusiasts will be happy to hear that the results were the same across categories, meaning that the cyclists who’d chugged four plus cups of coffee the day before their trial did just as well as the (shaking? sweating?) light caffeine drinkers.
This, of course, does not mean it’s necessarily good to chug four cups of brew before hitting the gym (heart palpitations are no fun). Plus, the study had several holes: It looked at the effects of caffeine on fit young men. Women and those in poor physical condition were left out of the equation. Not to be preachy, but we’d say the real takeaway here is that, if you, like Gualano, have a well-founded suspicion that a rule that ostensibly applies to you doesn’t actually apply to you, don’t hesitate to question it.
[ via The New York Times ]