Black is the New Black: Caffeine and Physical Activity
Do you want “Faster, Higher, Stronger”? Caffeine can help you get the job done. Dr. Dan Goldman, Analytical Lab Manager at Strauss Coffee, explains how caffeine in black coffee contributes to increased endurance during physical activity.
As far back as 20 years ago, I can remember our fitness instructor in the city’s Hapo’el sports team advising us to drink black coffee before training. Back then, I didn’t really know what was behind this tip. Today, knowing the foundation and explanation for this recommendation, I decided to share this knowledge with you. Professional athletes are well familiar with lists of various substances that contribute to increased endurance during exercise. One of these substances, caffeine, is a popular component in the typical Western diet, and we consume it in, among other things, coffee, cocoa, tea and various soft drinks.
What kind of improved performance should we expect after consuming caffeine?
when mentioning caffeine, it is typically linked to phenomena such as improved alertness and concentration. You may be surprised to hear that that this is apparently not its only effect, and that studies over the past decades have show a link between caffeine intake close to an aerobic activity and improvement in several sports indicators:
- Improved performance times. One indicator which is typically tested in this type of studies is the time required to perform a task, with and without caffeine consumption beforehand. For example, a study published in 2013 found that caffeine consumption close to a physical activity helped reduce by 5% the time it takes to complete a bicycle ride. Such studies suggest that caffeine intake close to physical activity may help improve the time it takes to perform a sports task.
- Extended duration of an exercise. In this type of test, subjects are asked to engage in a physical activity and try to continue performing an exercise for the longest time possible before they stop with exhaustion. For example, a study from 1995 shows that caffeine consumed in various amounts extended bicycle-riding time until it was brought to a halt due to the riders’ exhaustion. Such studies suggest that caffeine intake close to a physical activity may help increase perseverance and extend the time in which this activity can be continued.
- Inhibited fatigue. In this type of test, which can also explain the observations described earlier, subjects are asked to rate their sense of fatigue during exercise. Several studies indicate that caffeine consumption may help inhibit fatigue among those working out (1)
affeine is known as a substance that through linking to sites in the central nervous system in the brain, promotes the secretion of various hormones and inhibits fatigue. Secretion of hormones such as adrenaline is known for its stimulating effects on various body systems.
Talking in numbers: what is the ultimate intake to improve performance?
The European body responsible for the examination of claims relating to food components, the EFSA, discussed the effects of caffeine on aerobic training in 2011. In its opinion, based on a review of various studies published about this topic, the committee concluded that caffeine intake of 3mg per kilogram of body weight about an hour before a workout session helps people raise both their endurance and perseverance.
So how does it work?
After seeing how caffeine helps increase endurance, we will now try to understand the physiological mechanisms that can explain these observations. There are three major tracks on which practitioners tend to explain the effects of caffeine during an aerobic activity, but the study about which one has a greater impact and whether all three are true, is still in progress.
- Caffeine is known as a substance that through linking to sites in the central nervous system in the brain, promotes the secretion of various hormones and inhibits fatigue (2). Secretion of hormones such as adrenaline is known for its stimulating effects on various body systems.
- It is assumed that caffeine aids muscle contraction mainly due to its contribution in encouraging the release of various minerals from the cells involved in this process (3)
- Muscles store (in a limited fashion) a carbohydrate called glycogen, which serves as a source of energy available to them. One approach suggests that caffeine may delay the consumption of glycogen in the early stages of a workout by utilizing other sources of energy, thus leaving its reservoirs available to the muscle during later stages of the activity (4)
Why black coffee?
We mentioned earlier that in order to achieve this effect of caffeine, one must consume about 3mg per kilogram of body weight. For a person of the average weight of 70kg, this amount is about 210mg. If we examine the amount of caffeine in various products (see Table 1), it appears that among the options offered, strong Turkish coffee (a heaping spoonful and a half per cup) contains the amount of caffeine recommended for this purpose.* Results are based on lab test conducted at the Coffee Technologies Center, Strauss Group
Conclusion- Should we consume caffeine before engaging in sports? In a lifestyle that doesn't leave many opportunities for a physical activity, we should use the time in our two to three weekly workouts (at best) more efficiently. As we have seen, consuming caffeine close to a workout session can help us make the most of this activity. The beauty is that it can be done in a natural and simple way: just drink strong black coffee, and go out for a workout.