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Two New Studies on Caffeine and Exercise

2 July 2021
Giulio Prisco


Caffeine is known to have positive effects on physical and mental performance. Like most people in my part of the world, I ingest caffeine in the form of cups of coffee, without which I couldn’t live.

Drinking coffee is less popular in other parts of the world. And not everyone likes coffee. However, more and more scientific studies recommend caffeine supplements in the form of energy drinks and pills.

The positive impact of caffeine intake on intense exercise performance is confirmed by a study published in the October 2020 issue of European Journal of Nutrition. The researchers have investigated the effect of caffeine ingestion on whole-body oxidation during one hour of cycling at the intensity that elicits maximal fat oxidation (Fatmax).

Twelve healthy participants performed two experimental trials after ingesting either caffeine (3 mg/kg) or a placebo (cellulose). Energy expenditure, fat oxidation rate, and carbohydrate oxidation rate were continuously measured during the trials.

The results of the study suggest that a moderate dose of caffeine (3 mg/kg) increases the amount of fat oxidized during one hour of cycling at Fatmax. Therefore, caffeine might be used as an effective strategy to enhance body fat utilization. The researchers note, however, that caffeine can have unwanted side effects in people with hypertension or high sensitivity to caffeine.

The effects of caffeine on muscle oxygen saturation during exercise of increasing intensity is analyzed in a study published in the November 2019 issue of British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Thirteen healthy and active participants performed two experimental trials after ingesting, also in this case, either caffeine (3 mg/kg) or a placebo (cellulose). After waiting for one hour to absorb the substances, the participants used an exercise bicycle at increasing intensity with sensors (near infrared spectrometers) attached to the legs to continuously monitor oxygen saturation.

Blood lactate concentration was measured 1 min after the end of the exercise test. It is an indicator of fatigue within exercising muscles.

The results of the study indicate that ingestion of 3 mg/kg of caffeine improved peak aerobic performance and increased peak pulmonary ventilation. The results of the study also suggest that caffeine might have the ability to enhance oxygen availability in the muscles, and thus boost endurance performance.

The researchers note that the well-known ability of caffeine to enhance physical performance and wakefulness has favored the inclusion of this stimulant in several over-the-counter medications and dietary supplements. Caffeine, which has the capacity to improve performance and increase endurance in a wide-variety of exercise activities when ingested at low-to-moderate doses (3–9 mg/kg body mass), is used by about 80 percent of competitive athletes. However, the physiological origin of the positive effects of caffeine is still poorly understood. And this motivates more research.

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