“Caffeine improves athletic performance. This is a truth almost universally acknowledged in exercise science.” — Gretchen Reynolds, The New York Times
Drinking caffeinated coffee has been scientifically linked to improved physical performance. And for years, many scientists, coaches, and athletes believed that an athlete had to abstain for days or weeks before an event to gain a boost.
But a new study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that these ideas about caffeine and athletic performance are outdated.
Bruno Gualano, a professor of physiology and nutrition at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, wanted to test that assumption — not only as a scientist, but as a recreational cyclist and committed coffee drinker (“as a good Brazilian, coffee is part of my diet,” he told the Times). He thought that even a daily coffee drinker could benefit from taking caffeine before an event, without previously cutting consumption.
And it turns out, he was right.
First, researchers carefully accounted for caffeine consumption. Then, they compared the rides of 40 competitive male cyclists three times: after taking 400 milligrams of caffeine (equivalent to about four cups of regular coffee); after taking a placebo; and again after no pill at all.
They found that that the riders performed significantly better when caffeinated — nearly 1.5 minutes faster than when they took nothing.
Most interesting, the results were consistent whether the riders were normally light, moderate, or heavy caffeine users. Abstaining in the days before showed no impact on the caffeine’s athletic benefits.
Simply put, “No matter the habitual caffeine intake in the diet, acute caffeine supplementation can improve performance,” Gualano says.
If you are looking to use caffeine to boost your workout, Gualano suggests starting with small doses: One cup of coffee an hour before exercise may be enough to ease and improve your subsequent workout.
Read more: Boost Your Workouts With Caffeine, Even if You Chug Coffee Daily
See the full study: Dispelling the myth that habitual caffeine consumption influences the performance response to acute caffeine supplementation
From the National Coffee Association: Coffee, caffeine, and health
Compiled by Kyra Auffermann, NCA