Coffee is ingrained in many people’s early morning routines because they rely on its mildly stimulating effect to get them going for the day. In addition to keeping people from crawling back to bed and eluding their responsibilities in the morning, the world’s favorite hot beverage can also help people power through long grueling workouts, according to new research published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.
Although endurance athletes commonly ingest caffeine in the form of powder or tablets as a means to enhance training intensity and competitive performance, conflicting evidence exists regarding the efficacy of coffee — a popular source of caffeine — in improving athletic performance. Unsure of coffee’s effect on performance, researchers conducted a meta-analysis review to evaluate how pre-exercise coffee impacts endurance performance.
"There's a perception that coffee won't give you the same benefits as pure caffeine," study lead author Simon Higgins said in a statement. "New research could mean that athletes could have a cup of coffee versus taking a pill."
Caffeine, the most popular psychoactive substance among people of all age groups and cultural backgrounds, is typically used to boost the central nervous system for cognitive or physical endeavors. The stimulant is produced by a variety of beans, leaves, and fruits, but is most commonly consumed in the form of coffee, according to the National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF).
For the study, Higgins and his colleagues reviewed nine randomized control trials that specifically used coffee to improve endurance. During the trials, study participants either cycled or ran after drinking coffee. They then exercised vigorously, and the results were measured.
Researchers from five studies found significant improvements in endurance performance. They found between 3 and 7 milligrams per kilogram of body weight of caffeine from coffee increased endurance performance by an average of 24 percent. The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can vary from 75 milligrams to more than 150, depending on the variety and how it's roasted and brewed. Americans consume about 27 ounces of coffee each day, Medical News Today reported.
"This is helpful for athletes because coffee is a naturally occurring compound," Higgins said. "There's the potential that getting your caffeine by drinking coffee has similar endurance benefits as taking caffeine pills."
Previous studies have linked coffee to many health benefits, including a reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, an extended lifespan, and a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Higgins said the endurance effects of coffee as a source of caffeine could be just as advantageous as taking caffeine in the form of powder or tablets.
"While there is a lack of high-quality research on coffee as a source of caffeine, there is an abundance of research on pure caffeine," he said. "It's surprising how little we know about caffeine from coffee when its endurance effects could be just as beneficial as pure caffeine."
Nevertheless, before any recommendations can be given to athletes, more research will be needed to determine how different the effects of caffeine from coffee are against those from pure caffeine — especially since the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can vary.