Athletes have not been a target of attention among tea producers, which seems a little surprising given increased focus on tea innovation and marketing on wellness, health management, weight control, and illness prevention.
There’s no tea equivalent of a sports drink, but there are many studies and expert sports medicine and coaching professionals who regard tea as a valuable element in enhancing performance, endurance, and recovery.
Here are a few of the consensual assessments:
The combination of catechins and caffeine in green tea boosts metabolism: the conversion of food into energy. Slow metabolism adds pounds. Speeding it up kicks athletes to a higher pace of performance. Catechins increase fat oxidation. Caffeine encourages fat melting.
Studies of mice populations show an 8–24% increase in endurance over a 10-week period. A review of 24 published reports on strength and conditioning concludes that overall, a moderate caffeine intake is “pretty effective” in performance enhancement. An explanation is that it spares glycogen for a late-race push. Unlike the faster and higher jolt from coffee, caffeine in tea provides longer-lasting energy without a crash. Matcha was singled out as the best choice here.
Another study concludes that regular consumption of black tea reduces oxidation stress and delayed muscle soreness from anaerobic exercise, speeding up recovery. Many of the spices in black tea chai add to the benefit: cinnamon is a natural pain reliever and ginger an anti-inflammatory.
The studies are sophisticated and published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals. They thus carry weight, though the usual reservations apply: limited samples, lack of replication, results that “suggest” that tea “may” provide health benefits but “more research is needed.”
Less formal reviews add to the picture. One coach views tea as a “fantastic way to stay hydrated” for young athletes who do not enjoy filling themselves up with flavorless water. Others stress its more general value in helping avoid sugar-loaded drinks in exercise.
Part of the lack of tea products for athletes is that the near central emphasis in wellness teas is that they are either low-caffeine green or caffeine-free herbals. The sports experts, by contrast, view caffeine as a plus factor.
Harney and Sons’ introduction of its Athletea, a “performance hydration plus” line that provides a boost of electrolytes and antioxidants, may signal an expansion in market reach. The teas are caffeine-free, as are such drinks aimed at attracting sports drinkers. Java Tea Company’s, by contrast, contains 150 milligrams of caffeine per serving, at least six times the average in green tea.