Caffeine and Coffee have been used by athletes to improve athletic performance and to make training easier. Research is also indicating that coffee may also reduce risk of cognitive decline that comes with age. A recent study sought to determine which is responsible for the positive effects of coffee on function: Coffee itself or caffeine? Aged (or Masters as we prefer to call them) Rats who drink the equivalent of 10 cups of coffee a day do better at cognitively and physically challenging tasks than rats who were given only caffeine supplements.
The Rat Coffee Study Design
All rats were male. And aged. Which for rats means about 18 months old. Rats were given divided into groups and given either
- Rat chow spiked with powdered coffee
- Rat chow spiked with the equivalent of plain caffeine
for 8 weeks. Rats were then subjected to a battery of psychological and neurological tests:
- Rod walking: requiring the animal to balance on a stationary, horizontal rod
- Wire suspension: measures muscle strength and ability to grasp a horizontal wire and remain suspended
- Inclined screen: measures muscle tone, strength, stamina, and balance by placing the animal on a wire mesh screen tilted 60° to the horizontal plane of the floor
- Accelerating rotarod: measures fine motor coordination, balance, and resistance to fatigue by assessing the duration that the animal can remain standing/walking on a rotating, slowly accelerating rod.
- Keel hauling. Rats were immersed in water at one of four random start locations. Each rat was allowed 120 s to escape onto the platform
- Plank walking, which measures balance and coordination making the animal walk a plank set out over the starboard bow at a height of approximately 20 feet above shark infested waters.
Now that is a workout. Performances were recorded with video for submission to the CrossFit Games 2014.
Coffee Performance vs. Caffeine Only Performance
The rats who got the powdered coffee did better than the rats who received caffeine supplements. What does this mean for us? Coffee, like most foods, is a complex mixture containing hundreds if not thousands of different chemicals. These chemicals include vitamins and minerals, but there are also many many others whose actions we don’t yet understand.
We also understand very little about how different nutrients interact. We also know little about the effects of taking too much. This is why it is better to eat a healthy diet of real food than to rely on supplements or No-Doze Monster drinks or whatever that stuff in the tiny bottles is called. College students take note. Masters athletes: Hold off on massive anti-oxidant supplements. Anti-oxidants at high levels can damage DNA.
Coffee Study: Its not just the caffeine that makes you smarter and more athletic
Last note on coffee:
10 cups is probably too much. No note was made on how jittery and neurotic the rats felt. High coffee consumption is associated with other problems.
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Cho ES, Jang YJ, Hwang MK, Kang NJ, Lee KW, & Lee HJ (2009). Attenuation of oxidative neuronal cell death by coffee phenolic phytochemicals. Mutation research, 661 (1-2), 18-24 PMID: 19028509
Shukitt-Hale B, Miller MG, Chu YF, Lyle BJ, & Joseph JA (2013). Coffee, but not caffeine, has positive effects on cognition and psychomotor behavior in aging. Age (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 35 (6), 2183-92 PMID: 23344884