Most people are aware that coffee contains caffeine—a natural stimulant. What many people may not realize is just how effective caffeine can be in promoting stamina—not just stamina in terms of staying awake or getting a few more hours of work done, but also in terms of physical exercise. Studies show that drinking coffee can have a direct correlation to running longer and faster, increasing weight repetitions, and a host of other workout-related benefits.
The Science Behind Stamina and Caffeine
Glycogen, a form of glucose, is the body’s first method of energy storage, and serves as the initial fuel for exercise. As your workout continues, the body begins to tap into a secondary fuel—fat—to support the activity. The body can use fat for fuel as long as glycogen is also still available for use; when stores of glycogen are depleted, however, exhaustion occurs.
Where caffeine comes into play is in its ability to break down the body’s fat stores, which releases fatty acids (or lipids) into the bloodstream. This effectively reduces the depletion of glycogen by as much as half, thereby prolonging the exercise period by “sparing” glycogen for later utilization. In workout terms, this means that you can run for longer periods of time without feeling fatigued.
The benefits of caffeine go beyond just increased stamina—workout performance also gets a shot in the arm. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Science measured the sprint times of two groups of runners over 1500 meters. They found that the first group, who drank coffee before the run, completed it an average of 4.2 seconds faster than the control group.
Another advantage to your workout is the decreased muscle soreness caffeine can provide. A study conducted by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared a group given an amount of caffeine, proportionate to body weight, to a placebo group in terms of the level of soreness after a specific workout. The placebo group reported significantly higher amounts of soreness. A similar study at the University of Illinois also tested muscle pain, but concurrent to the subjects' workout. The findings were comparable—those who consumed coffee experienced less pain than those who did not. Ergo, caffeine enables you to complete more repetitions at a higher resistance during a weight training session, and to run faster and longer during a cardiovascular workout. Since caffeine hits its peak stimulatory effects between 30 and 75 minutes, it’s optimal to drink a cup of coffee about an hour before exercising.
Whatever you do, don’t drink too much coffee before your workout—it’s a known laxative, which is the last problem anyone wants to have while exercising. And a coffee overdose can also lead—paradoxically—to dehydration. Water is indispensable during a workout; though coffee is a fluid, obviously, it should never be treated as a substitute for water. Make a point of pairing your pre-workout coffee intake with seven to twelve ounces of water or other hydrating beverage.