Coffee Can Lessen the Pain of Exercise
Caffeine eases after effects of athletic exertion, new study suggests
That cup of
coffee that many gym rats, bikers and runners swill before a workout
does more than energize them. It kills some of the pain of athletic
exertion, a new study suggests. And it works regardless of whether a
person already had a coffee habit or not.
works on a system in the brain and spinal cord (the adenosine
neuromodulatory system) that is heavily involved in pain processing,
says University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor
Robert Motl. And since caffeine blocks adenosine, the biochemical that
plays an important role in energy transfer and thus exercise, he
speculated that it could reduce pain.
researcher, a former competitive cyclist, divided 25 fit, college-aged
males into two distinct groups: subjects whose everyday caffeine
consumption was extremely low to non-existent, and those with an
average caffeine intake of about 400 milligrams a day, the equivalent
of three to four cups of coffee.
completing an initial exercise test in the lab on a stationary bike to
determine maximal oxygen consumption or aerobic power, subjects
returned for two monitored high-intensity,30-minute exercise sessions.
An hour prior
to each session, cyclists — who had been instructed not to
consume caffeine during the prior 24-hour period — were given a
pill. On one occasion, it contained a dose of caffeine measuring 5
milligrams per kilogram of body weight (equivalent to two to three cups
of coffee); the other time, they received a placebo.
exercise periods, subjects' perceptions of quadriceps muscle pain was
recorded at regular intervals, along with data on oxygen consumption,
heart rate and work rate.
"What we saw
is something we didn't expect," Motl said. "Caffeine-naïve
individuals and habitual users have the same amount of reduction in
pain during exercise after caffeine (consumption)."
are detailed in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and
Exercise Metabolism. Co-authors included Steven P. Broglio of the
University of Illinois and Sigurbjorn A. Arngrimsson of the Center for
Sport and Health Sciences, Iceland University of Education.
you regularly consume caffeine, you have to have more to have that
bigger, mental-energy effect," Motl said. "But the tolerance effect is
not ubiquitous across all stimuli. Even brain metabolism doesn't show
this tolerance-type effect. That is, with individuals who are habitual
users versus non-habitual users, if you give them caffeine and do brain
imaging, the activation is identical. It's really interesting why some
processes show tolerance and others don't."
outcome of the current research, he said, it may be that tolerance to
caffeine plays no role in the way it diminishes pain during exercise.
Motl said one
of the next logical steps for his research team would be to conduct
studies with rodents in order to better understand the biological
mechanism for caffeine in reducing pain.
"If we can get at the biological mechanism, we can begin to understand why there may or may not be this kind of tolerance."
Will it Help You Win?
previously has conducted other studies on the relationship between
physical activity and caffeine, and considered such variables as
exercise intensity, dose of caffeine, anxiety sensitivity and gender. A
future research direction might be to determine caffeine's effect on
that caffeine reduces pain reliably, consistently during cycling,
across different intensities, across different people, different
characteristics. But does that reduction in pain translate into an
improvement in sport performance?" he said.
the current research could prove encouraging for a range of people,
including theaverage person who wants to become more physically active
to realize the health benefits.
"One of the
things that may be a practical application, is if you go to the gym and
you exercise and it hurts, you may be prone to stop doing that because
pain is an aversive stimulus that tells you to withdraw," Motl said.
"So if we could give people a little caffeine and reduce the amount of
pain they're experiencing, maybe that would help them stick with that
For more information on the of University of Illinois Kinesiology and Community Health Department, visit http://kch.illinois.edu/