By Ali Eaves
Doping typically isn’t endorsed by guys with Ph.D.s. But Samuele Marcora, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Kent, advocates a safe drug that literally makes exercise easier and more fun.
The stimulant alters how your brain perceives how hard you’re working during physical activity, according to several studies by Marcora and other scientists.
In one recent study, Marcora gave half of the subjects a caffeine pill before they exercised. Even though all study participants did the exact same workout, the wired group rated their exertion as a 6.1 on a 10-point scale, while the people who took a placebo rated it at 6.7.
The same effect has been found for all types of workouts, including endurance aerobics, resistance training, and high-intensity interval training, he says.
When you exercise, your neurons produce adenosine, a chemical that makes you feel fatigued, says Marcora. Caffeine blocks the adenosine so you don’t feel drained—which makes the workout feel easier.
Sure, the difference in exertion from 6.1 to 6.7 doesn’t sound huge. But it’s enough to help you bang out a few more reps or one more mile, taking your fitness to the next level, Marcora says.
Perhaps more importantly, if the workout isn’t so hard, you may enjoy it more—and be more likely to stick to your program.
Marcora tested this theory in another study, and it’s true: People enjoyed workouts more when they consumed caffeine beforehand than when they took a placebo.
“One of the biggest reasons that people don’t exercise is that it’s hard work,” says Marcora. “But we can reduce the difficulty that prevents people from sticking to exercise with caffeine.”
So here’s the expert-recommended way to dope: Take 3 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of your bodyweight one hour before your workout, Marcora says. For an 81kg guy, that’s about 240 milligrams of caffeine—the amount in about three shots of espresso or a Starbucks tall brewed coffee.