Taken an hour or so before exercise, it also enables most athletes to run, bike, swim or otherwise perform a little faster or more vigorously than if they do not have caffeine first. Caffeine provides this boost by making it easier for muscles to burn body fat, of which we all have ample supplies. It also increases alertness, which seems to make exercise feel less strenuous. (Caffeine is not banned from sports except in very high doses.)
But caffeine users tend to become habituated to its effects, as those of us who have watched our morning consumption creep up by a cup or three can attest.
So athletes typically have been advised to quit drinking coffee or anything else that contains caffeine for most of the week before a major competition, on the theory that doing so should reduce their habituation and amplify the impacts of caffeine on the day of the event.
But Bruno Gualano, a professor of physiology and nutrition at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, was unconvinced. A recreational cyclist and committed coffee drinker — “as a good Brazilian, coffee is part of my diet,” he says — he thought it possible that athletes could benefit from taking caffeine before an event, even if they had not abstained in the days beforehand.
To test that idea, he and his colleagues first recruited 40 competitive male cyclists from São Paulo and invited them to the university’s human performance lab for a series of health and performance tests.
They also questioned the riders extensively about their normal intake of caffeine. How many cups of coffee, tea, cola, Red Bull and so on did they drink every day or week?
Based on that information, the researchers stratified the riders into a low-caffeine group, which averaged about a cup or less of coffee or other caffeinated drinks on most days; a moderate-caffeine…