Can Coffee Improve Your Workout?
This article discusses the benefits or otherwise of having a cup of coffee before exercising. It's best to think about it as part of an overall strategy for staying fit rather than something that will act as some kind of magic bullet.
Caffeine has several potential health benefits, from improving your cardiovascular health to boosting your performance.
But as with anything, moderation is key - too much caffeine will have a negative effect on your workout and may cause addiction. There's also no evidence to suggest that drinking coffee can offer the same benefits as exercise itself.
Today's coffee isn't what it used to be. With a new 'fitness' blend on the market promising extra caffeine with low calories and sugar, it seems as though you can have your coffee and drink it too.
But, is this a case of clever marketing or is there some fact behind the claims? In the past, caffeine has been linked to weight loss as well as improvements in athletic performance.
Today, public health messages from organisations such as Public Health England recommend drinking tea and coffee as part of a healthy balanced diet - not just because of their caffeine content but also due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which can promote good health.
Despite this, there remain sound reasons to be cautious about caffeine intake and its effects on the body. Caffeine is a stimulant and too much can lead to anxiety and sleep problems in some people.
More importantly, research suggests that it could lead to dehydration during exercise if taken in large amounts . This has implications for anyone exercising at high intensity or for long periods of time because it increases the risk of heat stroke.
For these individuals, it might be advisable not only to avoid caffeinated drinks but also other sources of caffeine such as chocolate bars before an event.
Now that the summer weather is here many people are returning to outdoor exercise. As someone who runs outdoors throughout spring and summer I'm always looking for ways to boost my performance.
Caffeine is often recommended as a way to improve endurance during training. A study by researchers at the University of Birmingham found that caffeine improved cyclists' power output in simulated outdoor conditions, which could make it easier for someone to complete their chosen activity.
But if you are planning on taking caffeine before you exercise, be careful how much you take . It seems obvious but there have been several cases of people being hospitalised due to over-consumption of caffeinated drinks prior to exercise.
The European Food Safety Authority reported that one person died after drinking seven litres of an energy drink in one hour, while another suffered a heart attack after taking three caffeine pills.
These are extreme examples but they highlight the dangers of consuming too much caffeine and exercising.
The perfect caffeine hit to improve your workout?
Bitterness is the main reason why many people don't like coffee. So scientists at The University of Florida developed a process that removed caffeine while leaving other important compounds in place.
Caffeine-free but otherwise identical 'cups' of coffee were rated by consumers as tasting more bitter than regular coffee.
This suggests that, despite the common belief that taking sugar or sweeteners with caffeine masks its bitterness, actually having less caffeine can make it taste worse to some people.
Though if you add milk and sugar it might mask some of the unpleasant effects for you, new research from Northumbria University shows there is no real health benefit for our bones from drinking caffeinated drinks with milk.
Maybe it's the case that we need to change our conception of what coffee is.
The production of a 'fitness' blend shows that caffeine doesn't have to come from a traditional espresso or instant coffee, suggesting there might be other ways to get your morning boost.
So why not try something different if you're looking for a caffeine kick?
A new study published in Food Research International found that people who drank an energy drink containing green tea extract felt less tired and more vigorous than those who had one with a placebo.
This suggests green tea can contribute to feelings of wellbeing before exercise - even without the extra caffeine from black tea, which was once thought to make it more effective at shifting fat.
The same research team also tested how different drinks affect performance during exercise. Both black tea and water were found to improve cyclists' endurance, but combining them led to the best results.
So if you're planning on exercising after work, it could be worth stopping by your local café for a green tea or sports drink on your way home - they might help you perform better.
But caffeine isn't just about boosting performance. New research has started looking at how regular consumption can also have potential advantages for heart health.
Preliminary studies have suggested that caffeine might lower levels of 'bad' cholesterol in the blood, which could decrease someone's risk of cardiovascular disease.
But these findings are preliminary so more work needs to be done before any conclusions can be made.
And it seems very unlikely that taking caffeine could be an alternative to regular exercise.
It might improve your performance but it isn't a magic bullet, and if you're thirsty after taking caffeine then water is probably the best choice.
Negative side of too much caffeine
Caffeine can have negative effects. As well as the milder symptoms of over-caffeination, such as sleeplessness and increased heart rate, caffeine is also mildly addictive.
This means that you can feel 'withdrawal' symptoms - including headache, fatigue and irritability - if you cut down your consumption suddenly.
But the most serious risk associated with caffeine is probably still too much coffee. In 2011, two people died after competing in a hot-dog eating contest and a spicy food-eating contest , believed to be caused by excessive caffeine consumption.
However, as these examples show it isn't just about the amount of caffeine you take but also how your body reacts to it. So if you have high levels of caffeine in your blood, but don't feel any symptoms, then there's no immediate risk to your health.
But these reactions vary between individuals and are also influenced by factors such as age. So the safest approach is to use moderation - limiting yourself to around 200mg of caffeine per day.
This is the equivalent of around two mugs of instant coffee or three cups of tea. You may even find that ordinary black coffee has become too much for you, especially if you're sensitive to caffeine at the moment.
Important to Drink Plenty of Water
If you drink a lot of coffee but don't drink water as well, then this could contribute to dehydration . And if you're exercising soon after drinking coffee then this will increase the risk further.
So it's best not to rely on caffeine alone. Drink plenty of water throughout the day - even without added coffee or tea - and you should feel the benefits.
The research suggests that caffeine can boost certain aspects of physical fitness , though much more work needs to be done before specific training regimes are recommended. So for now, don't quit your workout - just try having a cup of coffee instead.
But whether it's regular caffeine, energy drinks or another source of caffeine entirely - coffee doesn't have to be your go-to for an energy boost.
It's still worth enjoying some coffee though - just keep the amount to no more than one or two cups, and if you're exercising then water is always your best option.