Scientists say a small cup of coffee in the morning might just help you push a little harder during your morning workout.
Scientist have now found what makes caffeine reduce the pain during distance training and competitions and enhance an athlete's performance.
A former competitive cyclist, University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Robert Motl admitted to having had coffee with his teammates to fuel up on caffeine prior to hitting the pavement on long-distance training rides.
"The notion was that caffeine was helping us train harder ... to push ourselves a little harder," he said.
He said that athletes consumed caffeine rich substances motivated by "the notion that it will help metabolize fat more readily."
However, that's not the reason for the caffeine-induced improved performance, and thus Motl investigated the relationship between caffeine, spinal reflexes and physical activity.
Earlier in his research, he became aware that "caffeine works on the adenosine neuromodulatory system in the brain and spinal cord, and this system is heavily involved in nociception and pain processing."
And as Motl knew caffeine blocks adenosine from working, he speculated that it could reduce pain.
Many studies support the above conclusion, including investigations considering such variables as exercise intensity, dose of caffeine, anxiety sensitivity and gender.
"This study looks at the effects of caffeine on muscle pain during high-intensity exercise as a function of habitual caffeine use. No one has examined that before," said Motl.
He added: "What we saw is something we didn't expect: caffeine-nave individuals and habitual users have the same amount of reduction in pain during exercise after caffeine (consumption)."
For the study, his team recruited 25 participants, who were fit, college-aged males.
The participants were then divided 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.
In both groups, the researcher found that caffeine tolerance did not matter.
"Clearly, if you regularly consume caffeine, you have to have more to have that bigger, mental-energy effect. 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," said Motl.
Regarding the outcome of the current research, he said: "it may just be that pain during exercise doesn't show tolerance effects to caffeine."
The study on the effects of caffeine on pain during exercise appears in the April edition of the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.