Coffee, the Drink of Champions

If you’re looking for a stimulating sports drink that can boost your athletic performance, ease muscle pain and provide a host of other health benefits, contemplate a cup of coffee. This wonder-brew is filled with phytochemicals that are good for your workout and good for your body.

Although, today, we often connect coffee drinking with cubicle life, coffee’s original place may have been in an athlete’s backpack as a tool to enhance muscle performance. The earliest recorded use of coffee was by the Galla tribe in Ethiopia who enjoyed the bean for the way it seemed to provide extra energy. About a thousand years ago, these Ethiopians were grinding up coffee and blending it with animal fat to make coffee energy bars.

Today,more of us probably drink coffee than eat it, but its energy and health benefits remain as robust as they did on that ancient African plain.

Aerobic Boost

To test the usefulness of coffee for better exercise, physiologists affiliated with the Canadian Operation Medicine Section, Defence R&D in Toronto, gave coffee to 21 people, athletes all, and then measured how it affected their aerobic performance. Each of the subjects in the experiment rode exercise bikes until they were too exhausted to continue. Then, while they sat panting on their cycles, the scientists took samples of their blood.

They found that coffee improved everyone’s performance time in this exhausting routine. And the improvements were greatest in the people who weren’t regular coffee drinkers.  The coffee also bumped up the amount of oxygen the athletes were consuming about 15 minutes into their workout. But they found that drinking more and more coffee didn’t necessarily produce extra benefits. About two cups of coffee were all that were needed to make for a more effective workout.

In these tests, the researchers credited caffeine, the stimulant drug contained in coffee, with providing much of the endurance-boosting effects they measured.

Easing Muscle Pain

Aside from enabling you to pedal or run farther, coffee may also help ease muscle pain after working out. Research at the University of Georgia found that the caffeine in a cup of coffee downed about an hour before lifting weights could limit the pain felt after the exercise session. They found that this pain-limiting benefit was still going on two days afterwards.

If you’re a weekend warrior, these types of studies show that a moderate amount of coffee can improve your exercise performance and possibly help in recovery. According to Anthony Colpo, the author of The Fat Loss Bible, who has conducted independent research, the key points to remember about caffeine, coffee and exercise include:

  • For the best effect on your workout, drink a cup of coffee about 60 minutes before you exercise.
  • To get the most benefit out of coffee’s exercise-boosting effects for a competition, don’t drink any coffee for about a week before you compete. That will “maximize its ergogenic effect.”
  • While research on caffeine shows it betters endurance, researchers have not found that it consistently helps with team sports or power-type activities. Studies on weight lifters show that it doesn’t provide much help for lifting larger amounts.
  • If you want to use coffee to beat the competition, experiment with it in practice. Don’t make the day of a race the first time you try coffee. Otherwise you make yourself vulnerable to unpleasant digestive surprises.

Beneficial Beverage

Aside from helping you bike and run for longer periods of time, coffee possesses other health benefits since it contains a wealth of antioxidants naturally present in coffee beans. For instance, it lowers the risk of several types of cancers. And lab experiments show that while both exercise and coffee can lower your risk of skin cancer, exercise combined with the caffeine in coffee seems to lower it even more.

So the next time one of those commercials on TV touts the advantage of a sports drink named after a college football team, remember that there’s another drink, one that began in Ethiopia that has a longer athletic tradition and no artificial ingredients.

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