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Caffeine Reduces Muscle Burning during Intense Exercise

Researchers at the University of Illinois report that 300 mg of caffeine (the amount in four cups of coffee) reduces muscle burning during intense exercise in both regular coffee drinkers and in those who do not drink coffee at all (International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, April 2009). One of the researchers, Robert Motl, PhD, says that caffeine blocks spinal nerves that transmit pain messages to the brain. This means that people can exercise longer because they feel less pain.

Athletes take caffeine because they know it helps them to exercise longer. When muscles run out of their stored muscle sugar, they have to burn more fat which requires more oxygen. Lack of oxygen is the limiting factor in how fast and hard you can exercise over long periods of time. When you run low on oxygen, lactic acid accumulates in the muscles, which makes muscles more acidic, causing the burning that you feel in tired muscles. However, caffeine helps to delay the burning by causing muscles to burn more fat so they can preserve the sugar stored in muscles and you can exercise longer without accumulating large amounts of lactic acid.

Another interesting study from Iran showed that omega-3 fatty acids lessened delayed onset muscle soreness that occurs 48 hours after exercise in untrained men (Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, March 2009).


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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Should a diabetic or pre-diabetic drink coffee?

Probably yes. Several studies show that people who drink coffee are at reduced risk for diabetes. Starting people on either caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee helps to prevent diabetes, which would indicate that something else in coffee, other than the caffeine, is beneficial. A study from Vu University in Amsterdam in the Netherlands shows that two chemicals found in coffee, chlorogenic acid and the vitamin B3 precursor, trigonelline, both help to reduce the rise in blood sugar that follows eating a sugar load (Diabetes Care, March 26, 2009). Several other studies show that these components of coffee reduce blood glucose concentration in animals. Compared to a placebo, chlorogenic acid and trigonelline caused significant reductions in glucose and insulin concentrations 15 minutes after taking a sugar load.


Dear Dr. Mirkin: Is there any evidence that caffeine raises blood pressure?

If you do not have high blood pressure or heart disease, there is little evidence that drinking coffee will affect you. Several studies have shown no association between drinking coffee (up to six cups per day) and sustained high blood pressure or heart attacks (JAMA, February 14, 1996; American Journal of Epidemiology, January 15, 1999; Hypertension, July 2000).

If you have high blood pressure, you may want to limit your caffeine intake. Caffeine can raise blood pressure slightly and temporarily in people with normal blood pressures and more so in people with high blood pressure, but there is little evidence caffeine causes sustained high blood pressure or heart attacks (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, June 2007).

Coffee and tea may be good for you because they contain polyphenols, which help protect against high blood pressure and heart attacks by preventing blood clots and lowering C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation (Atherosclerosis, August 2007).


Note on an interesting potential use for caffeine:

A study from the University of Washington in Seattle showed that a caffeine-containing cream helps to prevent cancer in skin cells that had long-term exposure to ultraviolet B rays (the cancer- causing rays). Caffeine disrupted a protein, ATR-Chk1, so the affected cells would stop spreading and would self-destruct (Journal of Investigative Dermatology, March 2009).


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June 22nd, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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