If your 5K run times aren’t quite where you’d like them to be, help might be on the way. Not in the form of some secret training program or new running shoes. The “secret sauce” for a faster 5K? A nice, big cup of coffee. Or so says new research.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that coffee stimulates and improves athletic performance. I know I’m among millions who down a cup or two before a first-thing-in-the-morning gym session. Coffee drinkers who work out will tell you they get a lift from it.
In terms of real, scientific evidence (you know, the kind that counts,) there’s also no real shortage of evidence for some kinds of exercise getting a boost from caffeine. Studies have been done showing the benefit of caffeine consumption of performance in resistance training, (1) intermittent training (2) and endurance exercise. (3)
That research, however, was done on the ingestion of anhydrous caffeine, rather than the more readily available (and better tasting) version: coffee. Additionally, much of that research was done with male subjects. In fact, only 10 studies had been done comparing the effect of caffeine on exercise performance in men and women prior to 2019, when a systematic review of those studies was published. (4)
There’s also minimal research on the ergogenic effect of caffeine on women, particularly when the delivery system is a good cup of joe.
So along come the science types at the School of Life Sciences at Coventry University in the UK. They designed a randomized, double-blind study using a coffee group, a placebo group and a control group. 38 people (19 men and 19 women) took part in the study. (5)
They started by establishing a baseline for each participant. On the first day, each exerciser completed a 5 kilometer ride on a stationary bike to establish their power and aerobic output. On day two, the fun started.
The coffee group drank coffee (surprise!) They got 3 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight. The placebo group drank a drink made to taste like coffee, but with no caffeine. The control group drank no liquids.
They were given 10 minutes to drink their coffee and a 60 minute rest period to let it metabolize. Then, everyone got back on the bikes.
The coffee-drinking group completed their cycle tests faster than the other groups. They were also faster than their own baseline cycle tests.
For the coffee-drinking group, cycle times improved by an average of 1.9%. While the men improved slightly more than the women, both sexes improved after drinking coffee.
Power output also improved in both men and women on coffee. No improvement in time or power output was noted in the placebo or control group.
What we’ve learned from this study is that coffee is a performance-enhancing substance when it comes to endurance exercise. We also learned that men and women benefit equally from a coffee-borne caffeine jolt. This adds to a growing body of evidence surrounding caffeine’s, and now coffee’s, ability to enhance exercise.
So next time you’re looking for a little boost in your running or cycling times, grab a cup of coffee!
Keep the faith and keep after it!
- Richardson, D.L.; Clarke, N.D. Effect of Coffee and Caffeine Ingestion on Resistance Exercise Performance. J. Strength Cond. Res. 2016, 30, 2892–2900. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000001382
- Mohr, M.; Nielsen, J.J.; Bangsbo, J. Caffeine Intake Improves Intense Intermittent Exercise Performance and Reduces Muscle Interstitial Potassium Accumulation. J. Appl. Physiol. 2011, 111, 1372–1379. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.01028.2010
- Bridge, C.A.; Jones, M.A. The effect of caffeine ingestion on 8 km run performance in a field setting. J. Sports Sci. 2006, 24, 433–439. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640410500231496
- Mielgo-Ayuso, J.; Marques-Jiménez, D.; Refoyo, I.; Del Coso, J.; León-Guereño, P.; Calleja-González, J. Effect of Caffeine Supplementation on Sports Performance Based on Differences Between Sexes: A Systematic Review. Nutrients 2019, 11, 2313. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102313
- Clarke, Neil D., Kirwan, Nicholas A., Richardson, Darren L., Coffee Ingestion Improves 5km Cycling Performance in Men and Women by a Similar Magnitude. Nutrients 2019, 11(11), 2575; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11112575