The ergogenic effect of caffeine on exercise of maximum intensity has been well established. However, there is controversy regarding the effect of caffeine on shifting substrate oxidation at submaximal exercise. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of acute caffeine ingestion on whole-body substrate oxidation during 1 h of cycling at the intensity that elicits maximal fat oxidation (Fatmax).
In a double-blind, randomized, and counterbalanced experiment, 12 healthy participants (VO2max = 50.7 ± 12.1 mL/kg/min) performed two acute experimental trials after ingesting either caffeine (3 mg/kg) or a placebo (cellulose). The trials consisted of 1 h of continuous cycling at Fatmax. Energy expenditure, fat oxidation rate, and carbohydrate oxidation rate were continuously measured by indirect calorimetry.
In comparison to the placebo, caffeine increased the amount of fat oxidized during the trial (19.4 ± 7.7 vs 24.7 ± 9.6 g, respectively; P = 0.04) and decreased the amount of carbohydrate oxidized (94.6 ± 30.9 vs 73.8 ± 32.4 g; P = 0.01) and the mean self-perception of fatigue (Borg scale = 11 ± 2 vs 10 ± 2 arbitrary units; P = 0.05). In contrast, caffeine did not modify total energy expenditure (placebo = 543 ± 175; caffeine = 559 ± 170 kcal; P = 0.60) or mean heart rate (125 ± 13 and 127 ± 9 beats/min; P = 0.30) during exercise. Before exercise, caffeine increased systolic and diastolic blood pressure whilst it increased the feelings of nervousness and vigour after exercise (P < 0.05).
These results suggest that a moderate dose of caffeine (3 mg/kg) increases the amount of fat oxidized during 1 h of cycling at Fatmax. Thus, caffeine might be used as an effective strategy to enhance body fat utilization during submaximal exercise. The occurrence of several side effects should be taken into account when using caffeine to reduce body fat in populations with hypertension or high sensitivity to caffeine.
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The authors wish to thank the subjects for their invaluable contribution to the study.
This investigation did not receive any funding.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare no support from any organization for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organizations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous 3 years; and no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.
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Ruiz-Moreno, C., Gutiérrez-Hellín, J., Amaro-Gahete, F.J. et al. Caffeine increases whole-body fat oxidation during 1 h of cycling at Fatmax. Eur J Nutr 60, 2077–2085 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-020-02393-z
- Endurance exercise
- Substrate oxidation
- Adverse effects