Caffeine may lessen exercisers’ muscle pain

A couple cups of coffee before a tough workout may lower the chances of sore muscles later on, a small study suggests.

The researchers found that young men who performed an intense bout of cycling had less muscle soreness when they took a pre-workout dose of caffeine.

What’s more, the benefits were seen in both habitual caffeine consumers and those who typically shunned caffeine, the researchers report in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.

The findings add to evidence from earlier studies showing that caffeine may help prevent that familiar muscle soreness that strikes during and after a particularly tough or new exercise routine.

In theory, caffeine may limit muscle pain by blocking the activity of a chemical called adenosine. Adenosine is released as part of the inflammatory response to injury and can activate pain receptors in body cells.

These latest findings suggest that caffeine could be a safe way for exercisers to pre-empt muscle soreness, senior researcher Robert W. Motl, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois in Champaign, told Reuters Health.

The study included 25 physically fit college-age men, about half of whom normally consumed little to no caffeine. The rest typically consumed at least 400 milligrams of caffeine per day - the equivalent of three to four cups of coffee.

Motl’s team had the men pedal on a stationary bike for two high-intensity, 30-minute sessions. On one occasion, the men were given a dose of caffeine equivalent to two to three cups of coffee one hour before the workout; on the other, they were given a placebo pill instead.

In general, the researchers found, the men reported less thigh-muscle pain with caffeine compared with placebo. Since there was no difference between habitual caffeine consumers and non-consumers, people may not build up a tolerance to the pain-dampening effects of caffeine.

According to Motl, exercisers might want to consider a shot of caffeine before a particularly tough or new workout - or if they are going to perform exercise that has left them with next-day soreness in the past.

SOURCE: International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, April 2009.

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