Caffeine improves performance in almost every athletic activity, including, for example, sprinting, long distance running and swimming, weight lifting, and archery. It is important to recognize, however, that caffeine also helps muscles recover more quickly after a major workout or competition.
Eating carbohydrates is one way of enabling muscles to recover glycogen, their primary fuel. When glycogen is depleted, athletic performance is degraded. But when athletes take the equivalent of the caffeine in five or six cups of coffee in addition to eating carbohydrates, they regain 66% more glycogen in the four hours after intense exercise than they regain from carbohydrates alone. This was proven in a recent study by John A. Hawley, Ph.D., of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University.
This study looked at trained athletes who took large quantities of caffeine after intense exercise. The researchers note that the rate of glycogen recovery with caffeine was the highest ever reported for humans under real life conditions.
Dr. Hawley’s group studied seven endurance-trained cyclists and triathletes in a randomized, double-blind trial, comparing the recovery of blood glucose levels in athletes who consumed carbohydrates alone with athletes who consumed carbohydrates and caffeine. Blood glucose levels increased in both groups when they ate after exercising. However, glucose concentrations gradually decreased over the next 60 to 90 minutes during recovery with carbohydrates alone but not when caffeine was taken. Caffeine was was associated with higher levels at three and four hours as well.
The study was reported in a 2008 article in the Journal of Applied Physiology, “High rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis after exhaustive exercise when carbohydrate is co-ingested with caffeine,” by Dr. D. J. Pedersen.