Does Coffee Help Your Workout? The Answer Might Be Genetic - Pathway Genomics
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Does Coffee Help Your Workout? The Answer Might Be Genetic

March 21, 2018

To become an Olympic level athlete requires countless early morning training sessions, determination to push through obstacles, and a bit of genetic luck. And as new science shows, those same genes could have something to do with whether that cup of coffee will actually help us power through a tough workout or slow us down.

According to a recently-published study on the relationship between the CYP1A2 gene (which regulates caffeine metabolism) and exercise performance, the benefits of pre-workout caffiene consumption aren’t for everyone. Competitive male athletes were given a 0, 2 or 4 mg per kilogram body mass dose of caffeine and asked to complete a 10km cycling trial. While there was an overall positive correlation between caffeine consumption and cycling time, one subgroup with a particular variation of the CYP1A2 gene actually biked 13.7% slower with caffeine in their system than without.

As it turns out, performance had everything to do with how quickly one can get caffeine to move through their system. Those with the fast-metabolizing AA genotype saw increased performance, likely enjoying the initial jolt and powering forward without adverse effects. Those with the CC genotype, however, retained caffeine for longer and had a tougher time keeping up their cycling speed. Dr. El-Sohemy, the study’s author and a professor of nutritional science at the University of Toronto, theorizes that because caffeine can constrict blood flow, it’s harder for tired muscles to get the oxygen they need if the drug isn’t flushed from the system quickly enough.

Though the findings certainly clash with the idea that getting amped up on caffeine is a universal shortcut to amped-up performance, the good news is that slow caffeine metabolizers are decidedly in the minority. The bad news is that caffeine isn’t some kind of shortcut to winning your next triathlon, as the study can’t account for some of the other factors that affect workout performance. Still, if the thought of coffee is enough to get you out of bed and onto the elliptical before heading into work, that counts as a win.