The Relationship Between Coffee and Exercise

 Harvard’s School of Public Health writes, “Often people think of coffee just as a vehicle for caffeine. But it's actually a very complex Coffee and Exercisebeverage with hundreds and hundreds of different compounds in it.” [i]  Although scientists at both Harvard and Rice will readily say they do not understand how these hundreds of different compounds interact with each other and the human body, there is general agreement that coffee can help athletes. 


How Coffee Helps Athletes

Fatigue sets in when the body’s glycogen, which is its first choice for fuel, is consumed.  If caffeine is not consumed, the body will primarily burn glycogen.  When the supply of glycogen is depleted, athletes become tired. 

The caffeine in coffee helps athletes by encouraging the human body to burn fat.  When caffeine is consumed before a competition, glycogen is used less quickly.  Caffeine encourages the body to use fat, which is typically a secondary source of fuel for the body, in place of glycogen.  Some studies have shown that the levels of glycogen used by the body 15 minutes into an exercise routine are decreased by 50 percent when caffeine is used.


What Coffee Helps

Scientific evidence that caffeine allows the body to burn more fuel at once is scant.  It allows a different fuel to be used (fat) in place of the body’s preferred fuel (glycogen); however, it does not allow fat to be used in addition to glycogen at the same time.  Therefore, caffeine does not help athletes who perform short exercises with high-intensity, such as sprinting.  The general consensus right now among scientists is that caffeine only helps athletes who participate in endurance sports, such as long-distance running.  The glycogen in these athlete’s bodies is used up less quickly, so fatigue is delayed until later in their performance.

As an example, consider the sport of boxing.  A boxer who wins in the first round will not benefit from drinking coffee, because he does cannot burn extra energy in the first round.  In contrast, a boxer who wins in the ninth round will benefit from drinking coffee.  The caffeine in coffee will help delay fatigue.

In theory, caffeine would also benefit ultra-endurance athletes, such as people who participate in Ironman competitions.  This has not been thoroughly studied yet, though.  There may be other, unanticipated side effects for these athletes.


How to use Coffee for Athletic Performance

For athletes who want to begin using caffeine to boost their performance, Rice has the following recommendations.

·        Drink coffee between three and four hours prior to the competition, since the effects of caffeine on burning fat occur several hours after the caffeine is ingested.

·        Consider abstaining from all caffeine sources for three to four days before a competition.  This reduces the likelihood that a tolerance will be built up.  Those already drinking copious amounts of coffee may experience withdrawal symptoms.

·        Try drinking coffee in preparation for a practice, before it is tried on game day.

·        High levels of caffeine may trigger some urine tests. [iii]

Author Bio: Zachary James writes for, a boxing gear and nutrition site for both the boxing and health enthusiast. BoxFit is a carrier of Lonsdale Boxing Gear ________________________________



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