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Coffee-loving sports enthusiasts, listen up! It’s no big secret that caffeine can boost your workout potential. Caffeine’s energy boost is so well known that the International Olympics Committee considers it a performance-enhancing drug, and limits how much caffeine can be present in an athlete’s urine before the risk of disqualification kicks in. Now, scientists in Osaka, Japan have made another discovery about how drinking coffee affects your workout burn. Specifically, their research suggests that drinking coffee before working out actually encourages your body to burn fat for energy. You read that right – drinking coffee before a workout may turn your body into a fat-burning machine.
The study, published in Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging, was carried out with seven male volunteers – so bear in mind that it’s a small study on a single demographic. Even so, the results are provocative. Researchers had each of the volunteers drink either hot water or hot instant coffee before their workouts. The volunteers then rode an exercise bike for three 10-minute bouts with a short rest in between, or for a solid 30-minute block. Lest you think they were really breaking a sweat here, the bikes were set to 40% of full effort, so it’s about the equivalent of a typical ride to work through moderate traffic.
The researchers took breath samples from the cyclists before, during and shortly after their rides, and analyzed their chemical composition to find out what kind of “fuel” the volunteers’ bodies were burning for energy – fats or carbohydrates. What they found was that the riders who drank hot coffee before their workouts had higher levels of fat oxidation in their breath than those who drank hot water. This finding was the same whether the riders exercised in a straight 30-minute stretch, or in three 10-minute stretches.
What was even more interesting, though, was that the riders who had broken up their exercise with short breaks still showed higher fat oxidation 30 minutes after their workout. So, if these results hold up after further research, it seems that drinking coffee before a moderate workout – with rest breaks in between – promotes burning fat rather than carbs.
There are a few things to keep in mind, though. The experiment was carried out on a very small sample, and the sample consisted of healthy, active, relatively young men. It also only reflects the short-term effects of drinking coffee before exercising. In multiple studies on other effects of coffee, scientists have found that the short-term effects appear almost contradictory to the long-term effects. For example, coffee drinkers experience an increase in blood pressure shortly after drinking coffee – but people who regularly drink coffee for much of their lives actually have a decreased risk of developing chronic hypertension. Without properly structured experiments, it’s nearly impossible to know what the long-term effects of drinking coffee before exercise would be. There are a number of other important factors to consider, as noted by Dr. Dustin Ballard in his column for the Marin Independent Journal.
If you’re thinking about trying this out for yourself, the scientists used instant coffee, and the amount of caffeine was about the equivalent of two strong cups of coffee.