Coffee is the fuel most of us depend on to wake up in the morning and jump start our day. It can also give us that #MondayMotivation we need to hit the gym and crush our workout. Researchers at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil suggest drinking coffee before exercise increases alertness, and makes it easier for muscles to burn body fat, increasing the likelihood of weight loss.

The new study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, found drinking up to 400 milligrams of caffeine, or four cups of coffee, an hour before working out boosts athletic performance whether we're a light, moderate, or heavy caffeine user.

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“No matter the habitual caffeine intake in the diet, acute caffeine supplementation can improve performance,” Dr. Bruno Gualano, study author and a professor of physiology and nutrition at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, told the New York Times.

Gualano’s finding goes against conventional wisdom by scientists, coaches, and athletes, who previously believed caffeine served as a performance booster only when taken before an event, and abstained for days or weeks prior to it.

The Brazilian researchers recruited a group of 40 young and fit male cyclists who were questioned about how many cups of coffee, tea, cola, Red Bull, and other caffeinated drinks they had every day or week. Based on their normal caffeine intake, they were divided into three groups: the low-caffeine group, averaging a cup or less of coffee or other caffeinated drinks on most days; the moderate-caffeine group, which had about two cups of coffee; and the high-caffeine group, which drank about three cups of coffee or more. The riders were asked to undergo a series of health and performance tests to evaluate the influence of caffeine on their workout.

The participants were asked to come to the lab three more times to complete a time trial, where they rode as fast as possible until they burned about 450 calories. This task would take riders about 30 minutes to complete. The researchers asked them not to eat or drink anything in the morning before going to the lab.

Riders were given a 400-mg caffeine pill an hour before one ride. An hour before another, they were given a similar-looking pill that only contained gelatin as a placebo. The riders were not told what was in the tablets during the two sessions; they did not receive any pills before their final ride.

On average, those given the real caffeine pill were 3.3 percent faster on the bike than those who didn't; they were only 2.2 percent faster when they took the placebo. A 2 to 3 percent increase in athletic performance can decrease a runner's marathon race time.

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Surprisingly, the results were the same whether the riders typically drank large amounts of coffee or other caffeine drinks every day, or if they were light coffee drinkers, even if they did not abstain from caffeine days before the study.

Coffee is believed to help burn fat by mobilizing it from the fat tissues. It stimulates the nervous system, which sends direct signals to the fat cells to tell them to break down fat. It also increases blood levels of the hormone epinephrine, or adrenaline, which travels through the fat tissues and sends signals to break down fats, and release them into the blood as free fatty acids.

The caffeinated beverage has also shown to reduce perceived muscle pain from our potential gains. A 2009 study found drinking the equivalent of two to three cups of coffee one hour before a 30-minute high-intensity exercise session led to less muscle pain. This suggests caffeine could deliver the kick we need to work out harder during exercise.

In his study, Gualano and his colleagues caution caffeine’s effects were only seen in young and fit men; it's not clear how caffeine intake would influence women's athletic performance. For example, previous research has found caffeine has an appetite-reducing effect in men, but not in women; men ate less at a meal after caffeine intake. Caffeine can help encourage muscles to burn more fat, and boost metabolism, but it has yet to be seen whether this effect is long-term.

To test caffeine’s effects on your workout, start with small doses, and try a cup of coffee before hitting the gym.

Source: Goncalves LS, Painelli VS, Yamaguchi G et al. Dispelling the myth that habitual caffeine consumption influences the performance response to acute caffeine supplementation. J Appl Physiol. 2017.

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Is Coffee Good For You?

Health Benefits Of Italian-Style Coffee