Caffeine reduces post-workout pain

Caffeine may help reduce the post-workout soreness that discourages some people from exercising, U.S. researchers say.

Drinking a few cups of coffee before exercise could help reduce post-workout soreness. – Getty Images

SYDNEY: Caffeine may help reduce the post-workout soreness that discourages some people from exercising, U.S. researchers say.

Moderate doses of caffeine, roughly equivalent to two cups of coffee, cut post-workout muscle pain by up to 48 per cent in a study conducted at the University of Georgia in the USA.

Lead author Victor Maridakis said the findings, to be published in the February issue of The Journal of Pain, may be particularly relevant to people new to exercise, since they tend to experience the most soreness.

“If you can use caffeine to reduce the pain, it may make it easier to transition from that first week into a much longer exercise program,” he said.

Maridakis and his colleagues studied a small group of nine female college students who were not regular caffeine users and did not engage in regular resistance training. One and two days after performing an exercise session that caused moderate muscle soreness, the volunteers took either caffeine or a placebo and performed two different quadriceps (thigh) exercises, one maximum force test and one more moderate test.

Those who consumed caffeine one hour before the maximum force test experienced a 48 per cent reduction in pain compared with the placebo group, while those who took caffeine before the moderate force test reported a 26 per cent reduction in pain.

Caffeine has long been known to increase alertness and endurance, and a 2003 study found that caffeine reduces thigh pain during moderate-intensity cycling.

Co-author Patrick O’Connor explained that caffeine likely works by blocking the body’s receptors for adenosine, a chemical released in response to inflammation. But despite the positive findings of the study, the researchers said there are some caveats.

Firstly, the results may not be applicable to regular caffeine users, since they may be less sensitive to caffeine’s effects. Secondly, the researchers studied women only, and point out that men may respond differently to caffeine. Finally, the small sample size means that the study will have to be replicated with a larger subject group to confirm the results.

O’Connor said that despite these limitations, caffeine appears to be more effective in relieving post-workout muscle pain than several commonly used drugs. Previous studies have found that the pain reliever naproxen (the active ingredient in Aleve) produced a 30 per cent reduction in soreness. Aspirin produced a 25 per cent reduction, and ibuprofen produced inconsistent results in trials.

“A lot of times what people use for muscle pain is aspirin or ibuprofen, but caffeine seems to work better than those drugs, at least among women whose daily caffeine consumption is low,” O’Connor said.

Still, the researchers recommended that people exercise caution when using caffeine before a workout. For some people, too much caffeine can produce side effects such as jitteriness, heart palpitations and sleep disturbances.

“It can reduce pain,” Maridakis said, “but you have to apply some common sense and not go overboard.”

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