FOR many gym goers, a quick cup of coffee before setting off can provide just the boost needed to ensure a productive session.
But a new product that has been tested at MMU’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science can provide even greater benefits – without even having to put the kettle on.
The research team of Dr Gladys Pearson, Dr Christopher Morse, Jamie Woodroffe and Adam Bentley have been looking at the effects of caffeine spray compared to caffeine drinks such as coffee.
Testing a group of people aged between 23 and 39, the team looked at several markers of performance, including blood pressure, heart rate, blood vessel diameter, strength, oxygen usage and blood glucose levels. And they found that using the caffeine spray had noticeably better results than simply drinking a cup of coffee.
Caffeine improves performance by increasing the ability of cells to take in calcium, which is an essential part of the communication process between the nervous system and the muscles. Increased levels of calcium lead to greater strength and speed of muscle function.
A shot of espresso can also increase the metabolism, meaning someone who drank a cup of coffee before going to the gym can work at a lower rate but burn the same amount of fat, while caffeine also helps the body choose to burn fat rather than muscle or carbohydrates.
Caffeine can also make gym sessions last longer by helping keep fatigue at bay.
However it can take around 15 minutes for the caffeine in a cup of coffee to start having an effect – which is why Ben Coomber of the company Bodytype Nutrition, who commissioned the research, was looking for an alternative method.
The team started by measuring the participants while they rested, looking at their blood pressure, heart rate and blood vessels to find their normal cardiovascular performance, while a breathing mask measured their oxygen use and the researchers noted the amount of glucose in the blood.
Glucose is also critical for exercise as it provides the necessary energy.
Muscle strength was measured using a handgrip and a special chair which utilises strain gauges to measure pushing and pulling forces, and the electrical activity of the muscles was also tested.
They then applied the different treatments – caffeine spray, coffee or a placebo version of each and looked again at each variable.
They found that while both the caffeine spray and the coffee had a notable effect on each measure, the effect of the caffeine spray was the greater.
While coffee or other caffeine drinks can take up to 15 minutes to take effect, the spray showed physiological effects within five minutes, and these effects remained more consistent.
The spray allowed the participants to work more efficiently by using up less glucose and oxygen, and led to increased muscle efficiency wheras the coffee appeared to impede muscle efficiency. The spray also created a greater increase in muscle strength.
And by using protein or a combination of fat and carbohydrates as a source of energy, where the drink mainly utilises carbohydrates, the spray was seen to be better at helping to burn fat.
“Like running a car on a better fuel”
Dr Pearson said: “The research showed the participants who used the spray becoming more efficient – they were able to use less energy to produce a physical effort. It is like running a car on a better fuel.”
She added that there would certainly be people interested in any new product that could help them to improve their performance.
“For people who want to prolong their exercise session this could enhance their gym going, or people who are looking at weight loss programmes might be tempted by something that helps them burn fat,” she said.
Ben Coomber has now launched a performance spray under the name of his new company, Trans Dermal Technology Ltd, which is available online at his website, transdermaltechnology.co.uk.
Supporting athletes and gym-goers
Ben said: “It’s a totally innovative product – there’s nothing like this out there. But as a professional sports nutritionist I would never be happy to bring out a new product and make bold claims without having the research to back it up.
“Gladys was great at explaining the process and always made time for me, and that gave me the confidence to feel I could trust her and we could work together. This means that my business is now 100 per cent viable – I can take the spray to athletes and gym-goers and say I have something that is based on real research.”
However one mystery remains – just why the spray works as well as it does.
“The truth is we don’t really know why there is a difference yet,” said Dr Pearson. “It’s a puzzle and we are hoping to be able to look into it further.
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