Run to the Tea Shop: Green Tea and Running Endurance

Endurance running comes with it’s own unique challenges and stresses on our bodies. We are continually looking for food and drinks that will help us to run further without fatigue, recover faster, and prepare our bodies for that big event. One drink that might help you with all three is green tea. It has has long been considered a ‘healthy’ option and an alternative to other sugary or highly caffeinated drinks such as coffee. It has been associated with enhanced weight loss, boosting immunity and increasing bone density. So, as endurance runners who are concerned with our fitness and health, it’s a good daily choice. But maybe the green variety should also be your race day choice. Did you know that green tea has the potential to help you run for longer?

A Japanese study published in the American Journal of Physiology; Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology has shown green tea has potential to improve your endurance running. They compared endurance in mice who had been given a green tea extract for 8 weeks, genmai Matcha with those who had none. They found that mice given the green tea extract ran for a massive 30% longer than those without the green tea. The mice who had the green tea also had a higher level of glycogen in their muscles directly after exercise, more fatty acids in their blood and overall a lower respiratory rate during exercise. All these things show that their bodies were releasing more fuel for the muscles and sending less to be stored as fat. In August 2011, a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found the same effect in humans during a cycling trial. The same effect has been shown for swimming, just in case there are any triathletes reading.

So how does this work? They have suggested that the catechins, a natural substance found in green tea, are responsible for enhancing endurance. During exercise, your body is using energy and the balance of energy gained from carbohydrates and from fats is important in increasing endurance levels. The ability to utilization fat storage for endurance running has long been recognized as key to running for longer. The catechins present in green tea help us to utilise fatty acid as a source of energy during exercise, and therefore help us to release the energy to run for longer. The researchers in Japan recommend the long term intake of green tea and habitual exercise to promote endurance capacity. In this experiment, the tea was decaffeinated, so imagine the effect it can have with a caffeine boost too!

When participating in an endurance event, we might want a good dose of caffeine to get us up and running. Caffeine is noted for increasing alertness, and is a proven performance enhancer that makes running feel much easier. Highly caffeinated drinks are a tried and tested good race day choice for us. Sometimes, with drinks like coffee and cola however, this caffeine shot comes at a price and the acidity of the coffee or fizziness of a drink can cause gastric issues, ranging from acid reflux (heartburn) through to stomach upset; neither of which are particularly welcome on a run. Tea, also a source of caffeine, might therefore be considered a good alternative pre-race drink. Tea only has about half the caffeine content of coffee. A mug of coffee, brewed from grounds will typically have around at least 60mg of caffeine whereas green tea will have 20mg and black tea around 45mg (depending on what brands you drink and how it’s prepared, this will vary). But having less acid, and being plant based, tea is much lighter and easier to drink than coffee, and comes with it’s own array of health boosting benefits.

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