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Coffee May Improve Athletic Endurance Performance

The caffeine in a morning cup of coffee could help improve athletic endurance, according to a new University of Georgia review study.

Authored by Simon Higgins, a doctoral student in kinesiology in the College of Education, the study was published in the December 2015 issue of the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.

To research the issue, Higgins reviewed more than 600 scholarly articles and screened them for those that focused only on caffeinated-coffee conditions and measured the caffeine dose and endurance performance. Of these, nine randomized controlled trials specifically used coffee to improve endurance.

"Previous research has focused on caffeine itself as an aid to improve endurance," Higgins says. "Coffee is a popular source of caffeine, so this paper looked at the research surrounding its ergogenic benefits."

Looking at the nine trials, Higgins found that between 3 and 7 mg/kg of body weight of caffeine from coffee increased endurance performance by an average of 24%. The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can vary from 75 mg to more than 150 mg, depending on the variety and how it's roasted and brewed.

"This is helpful for athletes because coffee is a naturally occurring compound," Higgins says. "There's the potential that getting your caffeine by drinking coffee has similar endurance benefits as taking caffeine pills."

In the nine trials, participants either cycled or ran after drinking coffee. They then exercised vigorously and the results were measured. In a majority of cases, endurance was noticeably improved after the use of coffee.

When researching the effects of caffeine from coffee, Higgins found two important discoveries: that caffeine from coffee has ergogenic benefits—that it enhances physical performance—and that more research is needed on the use of caffeine from coffee vs pure caffeine use.

"While there is a lack of high-quality research on coffee as a source of caffeine, there's an abundance of research on pure caffeine," he says. "It's surprising how little we know about caffeine from coffee when its endurance effects could be just as beneficial as pure caffeine."

Higgins says coffee shouldn't be dismissed as less beneficial for endurance. He found that coffee appears to be just as helpful as taking caffeine in the form of powder or tablets.

"There's a perception that coffee won't give you the same benefits as pure caffeine," he says. "New research could mean that athletes could have a cup of coffee vs taking a pill."

Higgins says that more research is needed before giving official recommendations to athletes, especially since the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can vary depending on how it's prepared.

"There is a caveat to athletes using coffee: Be careful, because you don't know how much caffeine is in some coffee, especially when it's prepared by someone else," he says. "Athletes should run their caffeine use through their sports dietitian, as the NCAA lists it as a banned substance."

— Source: University of Georgia

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