Cyclists love their espresso’s. Even triathletes enjoy getting their fix before a training session or race. Some do it for the taste, while others want the kick of caffeine. The question is, does a cup of coffee actually have an effect on your performance?
Published this year in Sports Medicine, an analysis of 46 studies looking at the effects of coffee on endurance performance found that coffee had a small but evident impact on endurance when taken in moderate doses (3-6mg/kg). 39 of the 46 studies confirmed this finding with participants posting faster bike time trial performances and higher mean power outputs than control conditions. Studies concluded that coffee could be used as an ergogenic aid when taken in moderate doses.
A study published in the Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance (2017), researchers investigated the effectiveness of coffee ingestion as an ergogenic aid before a mile run time trial. The results showed that 60 minutes after ingesting 0.09 g/kg of coffee, the participants’ mile time was enhanced by 1.9% and 1.3% compared with placebo and decaffeinated coffee in highly trained individuals. In a race like a mile, a few per cent is the difference between winning and losing, or setting a personal best and not.
The mechanism of coffee and its effect on endurance performance is unclear. However, there does seem to be a relationship between ingestion and VO2 max (oxygen consumption). Oxygen consumption is one of the limiting physiological factors to athletic performance. So, if coffee ingestion increases oxygen consumption, it theoretically could improve an individual’s performance. Studies analyzed in a publication from the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences showed that heart rate increased with time trial velocity following ingestion of coffee. Heart rate affects oxygen transportation, delivering more oxygenated blood to working muscles. This increase in transportation theoretically increases oxygen consumption.
Needless to say, more research into the mechanism of coffee’s effect on endurance performance needs to be done. In the meantime, “I’ll have a cup of coffee, please.”