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Nutrition for Women

Get Your Buzz On

How caffeine can kick your workouts up a notch.

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For millions of women, mornings would be much more zombie-like than sprightly if it were not for a cup of joe. But if you want to also perk up your workouts you may want to consider caffeine a notable ally in the pursuit of better fitness gains.

The research keeps piling up that caffeine can transform your workouts from lackluster to legendary. A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that volunteers who consumed five milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight one hour before a workout were able to perform more biceps curls during their final set and experienced reduced muscle soreness during the days afterwards than those who took a placebo. Similarly, British scientists discovered that subjects who were jazzed up with a shot of caffeine before pumping iron were able to complete more repetitions of exercises such as the bench press before reaching failure and reported less pain and exertion during the workout.

A hit of caffeine can be especially beneficial if the only time you have to workout is during the wee hours of the morning. A Spanish study found that caffeine ingestion counteracts the decline in muscular functioning that occurs during the early parts of the day and raises it to a level that is similar to what is experienced during the afternoon. Human muscles are known to be more functional as the day progresses, which is why more world records in sports are set in the afternoon or early evening than shortly after sunrise.

Caffeine can also give you wings during your cardio days. A 2014 study by Australian researchers found that female endurance athletes who chewed on caffeinated gum (providing three milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight) 40 minutes before a cycling test experienced increased muscular power output allowing them to keep up a faster pace for longer. So by letting you push harder on the treadmill or during a spin class, caffeine could help you torch more calories and ultimately more fat.

One of the primary mechanisms behind caffeine’s ability to ramp up your workouts is its stimulation of your central nervous system. Caffeine can crowd out a calming brain chemical called adenosine. When adenosine plugs into adenosine receptors it stimulates the release of certain brain neurotransmitters that make you feel calm and less than peppy on the gym floor. As an adenosine impersonator however, caffeine can take adenosine’s spot at these receptors, stopping the release of compounds that mellow you out, giving you a jolt of energy and reduced pain sensation for better workouts.

Caffeine 101

To get the most out of your pre-workout caffeine there are some important guidelines that you should take heed of.

Dose: Studies suggest that to rev up your workouts you need up to three to five milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. That’s 180 to 300 milligrams for a 130-pound woman. Brewed coffee ranges from 60 to180 milligrams in a six-ounce serving. There’s no evidence that extra caffeine beyond this level provides additional performance benefits. Everyday coffee drinkers, however, will likely need the higher end of this range to experience a workout boost than those who normally shy away from the brew.

Timing: Chugging a Venti on your way into the locker room isn’t the best way to reap the full performance-boosting benefits of caffeine. The stimulant can take 45 to 60 minutes to peak in your blood, so if you take caffeine too close to a workout that lasts only about one hour in length you won’t get its full effect. The upshot is that you want to plan ahead and consume your caffeine roughly 30 minutes to one hour before you hit the gym floor so it can put extra zip in your step throughout the workout.

Form: Depending on the preparation method, brand and variety (robusta has more than arabica), the caffeine content in a mug of java can vary greatly so you can never be sure exactly how much you’re getting. That’s why some people use caffeine enhanced products like mints, chews and even tablets that provide a known dose. If you have tummy troubles during exercise after drinking coffee, try dark roasts such as espresso or French. European scientists have discovered that dark-roasted coffee contains N-methylpyridium (NMP), a chemical generated during roasting that reduces the production of irritating acid in the stomach.

Kill the Buzz: Sensitivity to caffeine varies widely from one person to the next based on genetics. If you feel overly jittery, anxious, or notice your heart racing like a thoroughbred, dial back your dosage before a workout or consider giving it a pass. People with existing anxiety conditions, heart arrhythmias, high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes should consult with their doctor before beginning caffeine supplementation.

After party: Not only can pre-workout caffeine give you an edge, it may also help you recoup afterwards. A Journal of Applied Physiology study reported that when subjects combined carbohydrates with caffeine following exercise they accumulated 66 percent more muscle glycogen — the main fuel for hard-charging muscles — than when only carbohydrates were consumed.

Check out Start Your Engines for some products to help you get your pre-workout caffeine.