updated 6/22/2005 6:42:53 PM ET 2005-06-22T22:42:53

Caffeine can help athletes by boosting the body's absorption of carbohydrates, scientists at the University of Birmingham said Wednesday.

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According to a study conducted by researchers at the university's School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, introducing caffeine into sports drinks increases the absorption rate of carbohydrates by 26 percent.

In the study, a group of eight cyclists took part in three two-hour exercise sessions. For each of the three trials, the cyclists took one of three different sports drinks — glucose, glucose mixed with caffeine and water.

The research showed that caffeine increased the amount of carbohydrates absorbed from the sports drink.

"You are kind of sparing your small body carbohydrate stores," Dr. Asker Jeukendrup, director of the university's Human Performance Laboratory, said. "You can get more energy from your drink, it means you are using less energy from your body stores."

Jeukendrup said the results do not prove that caffeine is a performance-enhancing substance, but simply show how caffeine affects the body's carbohydrates.

"We didn't even measure performance, and also this is just a way to increase the availability of carbohydrates," Jeukendrup said. "There are other ways of increasing the availability of carbohydrates. The simplest way would be to just ingest more carbohydrates."

Caffeine, an ingredient in coffee and cola, was removed from the World Anti-Doping Agency list of banned substances in January 2004. WADA, however, continues to monitor the use of caffeine.

Test subjects in the Birmingham study were given a high dosage of caffeine, equivalent to drinking four cups of coffee an hour. Jeukendrup said in future studies, less caffeine will be used in the experiments.

Performance enhancement wasn't included in the study because it is a difficult subject to control in a laboratory setting, Jeukendrup said. However, he said he plans to include it in future caffeine studies by controlling the test subjects' exercise, diet, temperature and motivation to perform.

"In this study, we just wanted to see, does caffeine have an effect, yes or no," Jeukendrup said.

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