We all know caffeine wakes us up, helps us focus and makes our brain sharp. For athletes, caffeine is known to boost sports performance, which usually is attributed to caffeine’s mental boosting ability. A study by researchers from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) shed additional lights on caffeine’s performance boosting ability – it seems that caffeine also reduced pain during exercise.
The study recruited 25 participants, who were fit, college-aged males and divided them into two 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 four cups of coffee.
After completing an initial exercise test in the lab on an ergometer, or stationary cycle, for determination of 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.
During both exercise periods, subjects’ perceptions of quadriceps muscle pain was recorded at regular intervals, along with data on oxygen consumption, heart rate and work rate.
The results showed that caffeine reduces pain perception reliably, consistently during cycling, across different intensities, across different people, different characteristics. Surprisingly, pain during exercise doesn’t show tolerance effects to caffeine, meaning that caffeine-naïve individuals and habitual users have the same amount of reduction in pain during exercise after caffeine (consumption).
One of the practical applications of this study, suggested the researchers, is that — if you go to the gym and you exercise and it hurts, you may be prone to stop because pain is an aversive stimulus that tells you to withdraw. However, if you take some caffeine and reduce the amount of pain you are experiencing, you would more likely stick with that exercise and rip the health benefit.
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Robert WMotlet al. Effect of caffeine on perceptions of leg muscle pain during moderate intensity cycling exerciseThe Journal of Pain
Volume 4, Issue 6, August 2003, Pages 316-321