Caffeine's effective at making it past the workday, but it can also help power through a tough workout. Research suggests moderate caffeine consumption can increase exercise endurance by conserving the body's energy stores.

Can Caffeine Boost Exercise Endurance?

Though it’s easy to consider it just a part of that morning java, caffeine can do more than help push through a rough day at the office. In fact, it's a potent stimulant and one of the most readily available "drugs" in the United States Caffeine and endurance performance. Tarnopolsky, M.A. Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Henderson General Hospital, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Sports Medicine. 1994 Aug;18(2):109-25. . Moreover, research suggests moderate caffeine consumption can actually increase endurance during exercise, allowing athletes to conserve energy stores and push through mental barriers Effect of caffeine on sport-specific endurance performance: a systematic review. Ganio, M.S., Klau, J.F., Casa, D.J., et al. Department of Kinesiology, Human Performance Laboratory, University of Connecticut. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 2009 Jan;23(1):315-24. .

Adding A Kick Of Caffeine — Why It Matters

During exercise, the body uses a form of starch called glycogen for energy. But once these stores are depleted— perhaps toward the end of a long workout— the body starts to feel like it’s running on empty. Caffeine slows glycogen depletion by encouraging the body to use more fat as fuel, helping conserve energy for the long run (or ride, swim, or jog) Caffeine and endurance performance. Tarnopolsky, M.A. Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Henderson General Hospital, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Sports Medicine. 1994 Aug;18(2):109-25. Caffeine and anaerobic performance: ergogenic value and mechanisms of action. Davis, J.K., Green, J.M. Department of Health and Human Performance, Texas A&M University-Commerce. Sports Medicine 2009;39(10):813-32. .

Caffeine may also enhance the strength of muscle contraction, allowing athletes to exert more force over greater periods Effect of caffeine on the neuromuscular system--potential as an ergogenic aid. Tarnopolsky, M.A. Departments of Pediatrics and Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON L8N3Z5, Canada. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008 Dec;33(6):1284-9. . And while caffeine’s endurance boost may be relatively well established, it is possible it also has a positive effect on shorter bouts of anaerobic exercise Caffeine and anaerobic performance: ergogenic value and mechanisms of action. Davis, J.K., Green, J.M. Department of Health and Human Performance, Texas A&M University-Commerce. Sports Medicine 2009;39(10):813-32. . Ingesting caffeine before a workout can also decrease feelings of exhaustion and pain, allowing individuals to more easily push through intense exercise Effect of caffeine on the neuromuscular system--potential as an ergogenic aid. Tarnopolsky, M.A. Departments of Pediatrics and Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON L8N3Z5, Canada. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008 Dec;33(6):1284-9. . So much for the runner's wall!

Waking Up To The Truth — The Answer/Debate

Be it via a mental mental or physical boost, caffeine can improve performance and help the body push longer and harder through endurance workouts Effect of caffeine on sport-specific endurance performance: a systematic review. Ganio, M.S., Klau, J.F., Casa, D.J., et al. Department of Kinesiology, Human Performance Laboratory, University of Connecticut. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 2009 Jan;23(1):315-24. . While it’s long been believed that only high levels of caffeine can produce these benefits, recent research suggests it takes much less than previously thought, meaning just two cups of black tea or two sodas might be enough for an average size adult to feel the effects  Effect of caffeine on sport-specific endurance performance: a systematic review. Ganio, M.S., Klau, J.F., Casa, D.J., et al. Department of Kinesiology, Human Performance Laboratory, University of Connecticut. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 2009 Jan;23(1):315-24. .

But don’t chug and run just yet. Like any stimulant, caffeine comes with some potential side effects that vary from person to person, including jitteriness, increased anxiety, and uncomfortably elevated heart rate Is caffeine a cognitive enhancer? Nehlig, A. NSERM U 666, Faculty of Medicine, UDS, Strasbourg Cedex, France. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 2010;20 Suppl 1:S85-94. . Consuming more than the equivalent of 4-5 cups of coffee per day increases the likelihood of feeling such negative effects, which can actually decrease athletic performance (and make those pre-race jitters that much worse).

When it comes to caffeine and exercise, a little can go a long way. For an extra kick before that workout, tip back a cup (or two) of Joe or tea. Just try not to drink the whole pot.

Certainty Level

Gerard Butler stocks up on caffeine and stares down all challengers before a long run.

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