Caffeine delays autonomic recovery following acute exercise

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Impaired autonomic recovery of heart rate (HR) following exercise is associated with an increased risk of sudden death. Caffeine, a potent stimulator of catecholamine release, has been shown to augment blood pressure (BP) and sympathetic nerve activity; however, whether caffeine alters autonomic function after a bout of exercise bout remains unclear.


In a randomized, crossover study, 18 healthy individuals (26±1 years; 23.9±0.8 kg·m-2) ingested caffeine (400 mg) or placebo pills, followed by a maximal treadmill test to exhaustion. Autonomic function and ventricular depolarization/repolarization were determined using heart rate variability (HRV) and corrected QT interval (QTc), respectively, at baseline, 5, 15, and 30 minutes post-exercise.


Maximal HR (HRmax) was greater with caffeine (192±2 vs. 190±2 beat·min-1, p<0.05). During recovery, HR, mean arterial pressure (MAP), and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) remained elevated with caffeine (p<0.05). Natural log transformation of low-to-high frequency ratio (LnLF/LnHF) of HRV was increased compared with baseline at all time points in both trials (p<0.05), with less of an increase during 5 and 15 minutes post-exercise in the caffeine trial (p<0.05). QTc increased from baseline at all time points in both trials, with greater increases in the caffeine trial (p<0.05).


Caffeine ingestion disrupts post-exercise autonomic recovery because of increased sympathetic nerve activity. The prolonged sympathetic recovery time could subsequently hinder baroreflex function during recovery and disrupt the stability of autonomic function, potentiating a pro-arrhythmogenic state in young adults.

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