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Combine Caffeine and Exercise for a Better and Stronger Workout

Mar 24, 2014

Combine Caffeine and Exercise for a Better and Stronger Workout

Many runners I know wouldn't think about hitting the pavement without having consumed a cup (or more) of joe. Coffee wakes us up, revs us up and gets us out the door before the sun has risen. Oh, and it also helps keep us regular, which--if you're attempting a run of any decent length--is a necessity, as any runner worth his sneakers will tell you. If one doesn't have a successful bathroom trip, the success of the run is far from guaranteed.

It turns out that runners are not the only athletes to benefit from coffee; when all is said and done, caffeine and exercise are a happening team. It all has to do with the science of our bodies; Gretchen Reynolds for the Times notes that "caffeine has been proven to increase the number of fatty acids circulating in the bloodstream, which enables people to run or pedal longer (since their muscles can absorb and burn that fat for fuel and save the body’s limited stores of carbohydrates until later in the workout)."

Although caffeine is a drug, it is a legal one, and its side effects make it the most popular drug in sports, according to the International Olympic Committee.

What's interesting about the alertness-producing beverage is that while most people who are avid coffee drinkers--convinced that they need to be caffeinated in order to complete a hard bout of exercise -- don't have a clear grasp of why the drink is doing them so much good.  Many of us coffee addicts just see it as a pick-me-up that enables us to lift more, run longer, bike harder. You know that woman who downs a shot of espresso before each Soul Cycle class? She may not just be imbibing for the sake of an afternoon caffeine jolt. In a piece on FitDay, the authors say that "caffeine is thought to help endurance athletes by reducing the muscles' consumption of glycogen, the stored energy used up during exercise."

In other words, if the habitual pre-class espresso drinker's muscles are using less glycogen as a result of the caffeine in her system, she will stay stronger longer, ultimately resulting in a better workout. 

What's more, contrary to popular belief, caffeine isn't totally dehydrating; in fact, "a moderate intake of coffee, cola and other caffeinated beverages does count towards fluid needs--particularly if you're accustomed to consuming caffeine on a daily basis," Nancy Clark, a registered dietician says in a post on Active's website.

Clark also notes that of the 74 good studies performed on the topic of caffeine and exercise, the majority of findings demonstrate that drinking coffee, green tea or even consuming sports-enhanced gels enhances overall performance and makes the effort feel easier. Caffeine helps keep the brain stimulated and the motivation coasting.

So long as your doctor has given you the caffeine green light, you can forget about whatever negative coffee tales you've heard. On those mornings or afternoons when nothing but a second caffeinated beverage will get you going, we say, go for it. You're be more likely to finish your workout and do it better. 

Non-coffee drinkers should take heed: as with introducing anything new to your training, be careful of downing a cup of Starbucks before settling into a cardio dance class. If your tummy isn't used to the potent beverage, it might upset your stomach or cause you to get so jittery that you're unable to work out at all. 

Check out the slideshow above for a peek at some of the best at-home workout videos to do after you swallow the last dregs of the French press pot.

By Stacey Gawronski

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