Off the top of your head, what are your two favorite things in this world? Okay, sex was probably among the first thoughts to surface. No judgement. But how about coffee and squats? They've got to be pretty high up there, right?
Well, they're even better together. In fact, coffee could be even better for boosting your squats than the pre-workout you're guzzling now, according to a new study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
In the study, researchers set out to analyze the influence coffee and caffeine have on strength training. They recruited nine resistance-trained men (about 24 years old). Participants took 15 minutes to drink coffee, rested for 45 minutes, then began the workout. They biked and completed warmup reps (no more than 2 sets of 12 reps at a self-chosen, light intensity for squat and bench press) for 10 minutes, completed a squat regimen, rested for 5 minutes, then completed a bench press regimen. They performed the squat and bench press protocol at 60% of their 1-rep max until failure on 5 separate occasions. Before each session, they drank one of five different drinks:
- Nescafé original (instant) coffee with ~433mg caffeine (dissolved in 600mL water)
- Decaf with ~2mg caffeine (almost none, dissolved in 600mL water)
- Decaf plus Caffeine Anhydrous with ~425mg caffeine (two gel capsules)
- Caffeine Anhydrous (pure caffeine) with ~425mg caffeine (two gel capsules)
The men reported their rate of perceived exertion and their heart rates were assessed to measure physiological responses between trials. Significant differences in heart rate were measured (due to the caffeine) but perceived exertion and stimulation weren't very marked. However, participants were able to squat a significant amount of more total weight after drinking a combo of decaf and pure caffeine—followed by coffee, decaf, and pure caffeine—compared to the placebo. During the decaf plus caffeine condition, five out of nine subjects lifted their greatest total weight, while the other four did so in their coffee trial. Here's the breakdown:
Squats (Total Weight Lifted During Workout)
Coffee - 2,976lb (17-22 rep range)
Decaf - 2,447lb (14-19 rep range)
Decaf + Caffeine - 3,086lb (18-23 rep range)
Caffeine - 2,557lb (15-20 rep range)
Placebo - 2,314lb (13-17 rep range)
So, what does the decaf coffee do? The researchers say it's possible other components in coffee (like the antioxidant properties of polyphenols) work positively with caffeine to have a beneficial effect on performance.
Now, interestingly enough, the total weight lifted during bench press sets all hovered between 1,543-1,719lb (700-780kg). That may seem odd, but older research, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, also found caffeine supps don't have a major benefit on bench press one-rep max; but they're not exactly sure why coffee and caffeine improves lower body moves more so than upper body—whether it has to do with the size of the muscle group or other factors.
Bottom line: If you want to get a little more from your workout and eek out a couple more squats, coffee (and decaffeinated coffee plus caffeine) may elevate performance. Though the researchers note it might not be over multiple sets.