Inside this article, I’ll discuss the benefits of using caffeine post-exercise. Such as, ‘how it can speed up your recovery’, and ‘how much caffeine to use post-workout to get the best results’.
However, you may be asking yourself, ‘aren’t I supposed to be taking caffeine before I exercise?‘. And you’d be right in asking that question because this age-old practice does have its merit.
Don’t forget to let me know what you think, has using caffeine post-workout worked for you?
Without anymore delay, let’s dive in a little deeper as to why you might want to swap your ‘pre-workout’ for a ‘post-workout’ caffeine kick!
Benefits of Using Caffeine Post Workout?
As mentioned, using caffeine can increase muscle glycogen re-synthesis by a huge 66% in some cases. But why is this important?
This is important because the quicker (and more efficiently) your body can absorb carbohydrates (more specifically glycogen) back into your working muscles, the quicker you’ll recover post-exercise.
By adopting this practice of taking caffeine post-exercise, it will allow you to get back out there and train with greater consistency – achieving better results than your competitors.
Furthermore, the mechanism of insulin release is also heightened when using caffeine post-exercise, which further shuttles glycogen (and other nutrients) around your body and into your muscles. There other benefits such as lipid oxidation (fat release) to be used as energy, which I’ll discuss in more detail below.
The Importance of Carbohydrates (glycogen) Post Workout
Carbohydrates help to fuel your workouts, they also help to shuttle more nutrients into your muscles, along with oxygen and the removal of waste products in the urea cycle which help to stimulate faster recovery. (see citrulline for enhanced sports performance and lactic acid removal).
By helping your body to create greater carbohydrate re-synthesis, you’re effectively sending more ‘healing nutrients’ into your damaged muscles. Doing this in the ‘post-exercise’ feeding window, (typically two hours), is crucial for recovery.
Therefore, using something as simple as caffeine could make a huge difference in how well your body adapts to the training stimulus you’ve just created. This is because carbohydrates are the most preferred fuel source of your body – and caffeine, stimulates the uptake of this vital macronutrient.
Studies on Using Caffeine Post Workout
(01) Effects of Coffee Components on Muscle Glycogen Recovery
In one study, with the use of caffeine post-exercise on humans, it was shown that it increased enzyme and protein activity where energy conversion and glycogen re-synthesis are concerned:
- Adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) – is a protein kinase, also known as an enzyme that helps to create cellular energy in homeostasis. It mainly activates glucose and fatty acid uptake and their oxidation when cellular energy is low.
- Acetyl-CoA carboxylase (ACC) phosphorylation – another enzyme that helps to release fatty acids (lipids) to be used as an energy source (read acetyl-l-carnitine for more information of fat loss).
- Glucose transport – sygnals for protein release that are responsible for glucose transportation across plasma membranes. These ‘plasma membranes’ decide which molecules are allowed to enter and exit a cell – mainly glycogen in-and-out of your muscles.
In summary; this study shows us that when caffeine is used post-exercise, it increases the rate at which certain proteins and enzymes, are released, allowing glycogen to enter the muscles at a faster rate.
Furthermore, this study also shows that enzymes which release fats to be used as energy is also increased. This holds great benefit when looking to increased your body’s fat utilization – i.e. fat loss and glucose retention for exercise. (I)
(02) Impact of Caffeine and Protein on Postexercise Muscle Glycogen Synthesis
Another study which tested for the use of ‘carbohydrates + protein’, ‘carbohydrates’, and ‘carbohydrates + caffeine’ on glycogen re-synthesis, showed no significance between either group. However, the caffeine doses in this study were smaller compared to the most notable study (found below) on caffeine’s benefits for post-exercise glycogen re-synthesis:
This study used fourteen male cyclists, who were examined on three different occasions. Each of their tests began with a glycogen-depleting exercise session, then followed by a 6-hour recovery with either of the following: (1) 1.2g CHO per kg b/w (2) CHO with 0.3g per kg b/w with leucine (3) and CHO per kg b/w 1.7 mg per kg b/w of caffeine.
After muscle biopsies were collected, the results showed varying changes. But not significant enough to suggest that caffeine and carbohydrates significantly altered the rate of glycogen re-synthesis. In this case, protein and carbohydrates seemed to create a greater response. These results can also be seen in my article on glycogen post-exercise. (II)
(03) Post-Exercise Caffeine Helps Muscles Refuel
The school of medical science at the University of Australia showed that when 7 trained cyclists used caffein post-exercise, it increased their muscle glycogen stores by an incredible 66% 4 hours post-exercise compared to using only carbohydrates.
Subjects were given either CHO at 4 g/kg b/w or the same amount of CHO + caffeine (8 mg/kg b/w) during a 4 hour recovery period. Muscle biopsies and blood samples were taken at regular intervals post-exercise.
The results showed that “Accordingly, the overall rate of resynthesis for the 4-h recovery period was 66% higher in Caff compared with CHO”. Therefore, this study shows us that when large amounts of caffeine are used in recovery periods, at 8 mg/kg b/w – it holds greater muscle glycogen accumulation than compared to CHO alone. (III)
How Much Caffeine To Use Post Workout
Suggestions have been made to lower the dose of caffeine post-exercise to see if the same glucose uptake response is mirrored to that of higher doses.
But as we’ve seen from study number 2 on my list, smaller doses made no significant changes to glycogen re-synthesis. Therefore, more research is needed to determine the most accurate dose when using caffeine post-workout to get the best results.
As a general rule, the amount of caffeine found in a regular coffee will give you the benefits you’re looking for i.e optimal glycogen re-synthesis via caffeine consumption post-exercise.
Downsides To Caffeine Post Exercise
As you might well imagine, using caffein (while shown positive for glycogen re-synthesis) could also cause some unwanted side effects. Such as; a higher release in cortisol post-exercise, which could reduce recovery time.
Furthermore, using caffeine could also disturb sleep which, as we all know, is vital for recovery. This is when the body repairs itself and releases growth hormone. So, how can we reduce or limit these side effects?
Suggestions have been made to lower caffeine dosing post-exercise when looking to utilize this method of carbohydrate re-synthesis. Another suggestion might be to use adaptogens, as they help to create homeostasis while lowering stress levels post-exercise. (read how ashwagandha reduces cortisol)
It’s not yet known how caffeine aids in the uptake of more glycogen post-exercise into the muscles. But, there’s speculation that smaller doses could also have a similar, if not the same effect. Long story short, use smaller doses of caffeine with your post-exercise meal to prevent these side effects.
Sport Nutrition Expert Recommendation?
Looking at the research (and from my own experience) I can see that using caffeine post-exercise is highly beneficial for increasing the rate of recovery. You just might need to adjust the amount and timing depending on your routine and tolerance.
When taking 8mg of caffein for every kg of bodyweight (= the average cup of coffee), you’ll allow for greater glycogen release, including certain proteins which allow for faster glycogen absorption into your muscles.
Furthermore, there are also signs that using caffeine post-exercise will release more fats to be used as an energy source, which holds benefits when looking to lose fat. And if you are worried about side effects, look to consume caffeine earlier on in the day to avoid sleeplessness.
To summarise; using coffee, as highlighted in these studies, shows to enhance the way your body uses, stores, and distributes energy. More specifically, glucose and lipids – helping you to become a better athlete, speeding up recovery.
Ask Me A Question!
Here’s the point where you can ask me a question! Such as; “how many carbs should I take post-workout?” Or; “Do I need to combine carbohydrates and proteins to get the best results?” Or even “When is the best time to take caffeine post-workout?”
I’ll leave the question up to you guys! Just don’t forget that I’m here to make your fitness journey an easier one, so feel free to leave all of your questions below.
(I) Loureiro, Laís Monteiro Rodrigues, et al. “Effects of Coffee Components on Muscle Glycogen Recovery: A Systematic Review.” International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 May 2018. (source)
(II) Beelen, Milou, et al. “Impact of Caffeine and Protein on Postexercise Muscle Glycogen Synthesis.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2012. (source)
(III) Pedersen, David J, et al. “High Rates of Muscle Glycogen Resynthesis after Exhaustive Exercise When Carbohydrate Is Coingested with Caffeine.” Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2008. (source)