Anyone struggling to stick to a New Year's resolution to exercise more might find the key to unlocking their motivation at the bottom of a cup of coffee.

That's the finding of research published in an editorial for January's edition of the journal Sports Medicine.

University of Kent exercise physiology professor Samuele Marcora authored the article, and spoke this morning with CBC Radio's The Early Edition.

"What caffeine does is reduce your perception of effort, so it reduces how hard and strenuous exercise feels," he said.


For the average-sized person, a large cup of coffee an hour before exercise can mean feeling less effort and more enjoyment. (Getty Images/Hero Images)

In his research focusing on people with sedentary lifestyles, Marcora gave half his test subjects a caffeine pill, while the other half got a placebo, essentially a sugar pill used strictly for comparison. 

The effect of the caffeine was clear.

"They felt less effort, less discomfort, and also they enjoyed exercise more," Marcora said. "We are tricking the brain to feel that it's easier."

Recommended dose

To get the most out of caffeine's effect, he recommends just under 14 mg of caffeine for every 10 pounds of body weight.

So for an average adult of 180 pounds, drinking a large drip coffee 45 to 60 minutes before exercising would be more than enough.

But what about the safety of using caffeine to bolster a work out? Marcora says even in competitive athletes, the risk of harm or overexertion as a result of caffeine supplementation is low.

Besides, he sees the ideal use of the supplement as helping average people stay with their plans to get more active.

"We are not actually asking people to use caffeine to do an awful lot of exercise. We just want them to do the recommended amount which is about 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise every day, and just make it feel easier so they can stick to it in the long term," he said.