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Want to recover more quickly after a heavy workout? Results from a recent Australian study suggest that the way to do it is to wash down a plate of pasta with five or six cups of coffee.
The study, High rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis after exhaustive exercise when carbohydrate is co-ingested with caffeine, was published by The American Physiological Society in the Journal of Applied Physiology. Authors David J. Pedersen, Sarah J. Lessard, Vernon G. Coffey, Emmanuel G. Churchley, Andrew M. Wootton, They Ng, Matthew J. Watt and John A. Hawley are from a variety of Australian Universities and Institutes, including the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, St. Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, Fitzroy, and Melbourne Institute of Technology University (RMIT) in Bundoora, Victoria, Australia.
It’s been known for some time that caffeine aids the body in converting glucose into energy when the two are consumed together before exercise. That’s the origin of the “power breakfast” on the day of a big game. This study is the first one that shows that caffeine and carbohydrates together can actually help the body restore glycogen in muscles faster after strenuous exercise.
The participants of the study were seven endurance cyclists who agreed to participate in four sessions. In the first session, they rode a cycle ergometer until they were exhausted, and then ate a low carbohydrate dinner before going home. The first exercise bout was meant to reduce glycogen stores before the trial actually began the next day.
The following day, the athletes returned to the lab and cycled until exhaustion again. This time, when they finished exercising, they drank a drink that contained either a carbohydrate alone or carbohydrate and caffeine together. The drinks were made to taste, smell and look exactly alike.
After the drink, they rested in the lab for four hours. During that time, the researchers took muscle biopsies and blood samples so that they could test the concentration of metabolites and hormones in the blood, including glucose and insulin.
Ten days later, they did the whole thing over again, except the drink they got was the opposite of the one they had the first time. In other words, if they got a drink with caffeine in the first trial, they got one without the second trial, and vice versa.
The results: Caffeine improves glycogen recovery times
What they found was that both groups of athletes had the same amount of glycogen recovery one hour after ingesting the drink. However, those athletes who had drunk the caffeine drink had 66% more glycogen in their muscles at the four hour mark than did those who drank a pure carb drink. The caffeine drink also resulted in higher levels of blood glucose and insulin levels.
What it all means:
“If you have 66% more fuel for the next day’s training or competition, there is absolutely no question you will go farther or faster,” said Dr. Hawley, the study’s senior author.
Hawley says that the next step is to determine the effect of smaller doses, since large doses (athletes consumed the equivalent of five to six cups of coffee in the caffeine drink) can disrupt sleep patterns and have other undesired effects. However, he pointed out, there are individual differences and tolerances for caffeine. Some athletes reported jitteriness and difficulty sleeping. Others had no problems at all. He suggests that any athlete who wants to make ingesting caffeine as part of their training regimen should experiment with combinations of carbs and caffeine well before an important meet to judge the individual effects.