Some people drink coffee before exercising in the belief that it enhances exercise performance. Is it true?
Are you a fitness buff with a taste for Starbuck’s lattes? So you’re in the habit of stopping by the coffee shop before heading to the health club. Have you ever stopped to consider the effect that cup of piping hot java might have on your exercise performance? Should you drink coffee before exercise?
Drinking Coffee Before Exercise: Does It Increase Performance?
Some studies have shown that drinking coffee before exercise can enhance exercise performance, particularly for endurance events such as longer distance running. Not all studies have shown a benefit though. A recent, well publicized study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that even moderate amounts of caffeine, the equivalent of two cups of coffee, can impair athletic performance. It seems that the caffeine in coffee alters the amount of blood flow that reaches the heart during an exercise session. Normally, blood flow to the heart increases with exercise, but when caffeine tablets were given to athletes, this increase in blood flow was reduced, meaning less oxygen and nutrients were reaching the heart muscle.
Drinking Coffee Before Exercise: Could It Spell Trouble?
This effect of caffeine on blood flow to the heart is important not only for exercise performance, but could be problematic for those who have underlying heart disease or high blood pressure. The combination of caffeine and exercise raises the heart rate and significantly increases the body’s demands for oxygen. When this need isn’t met, the result can be lightheadedness or even serious changes in heart rhythm.
What About the Nay Sayers?
Despite this, many people still believe that drinking coffee before exercise helps them to exercise longer and harder. Some people who drink coffee before exercise feel more focused due to the effects of caffeine; and there’s some evidence that caffeine can reduce fatigue allowing a person to exercise longer. The effects of caffeine on sports performance may vary depending upon the individual and the amount of caffeine consumed, making it difficult to generalize. Nevertheless, it would be wise to avoid drinking coffee before exercise particularly if you have hypertension or are at an increased risk of heart disease.
What About Other Caffeine Sources?
Many fitness experts recommend green tea as a substitute for sports drinks because the catechins appear to reduce some of the oxidative stress associated with intense exercise. There does seem to be some credibility to this; but it would be safest to drink green tea in a decaffeinated form for the health of your heart.
Another Reason Not to Drink Coffee Before Exercise
A final disadvantage of drinking coffee before exercise is its mild diuretic effect. Although it may not have an enormous impact on hydration, it can increase urine flow which may be an inconvenience if you’re on a long distance run with no access to a bathroom.
The bottom line? It’s best not to drink coffee before exercise. Stick with water, sugar-free fruit juice or caffeine-free sports drinks for longer exercise sessions. It’s the safest bet.