Green Tea versus Coffee: Effects on Mental + Physical Performance

A comparative self-study between Matcha Powder and Coffee to examine their respective effects on physical and mental capabilities. 


Introduction & Disclaimer
Part I: Matcha Results & Research
Part II: Coffee Results & Research
Part III: Survey
Part IV: Repetition
Part V: Final Observations


The first week had consisted of a baseline by which I consumed no caffeine whatsoever. I had rated myself a 5/10 throughout the several mental/psychical categories as I had no comparative. I utilized no other supplements during this time and sought to maintain the most consistent dietary/sleeping schedule that I could. 

Physical exercises consisted of sustained cardio activity (running), strength/explosiveness (kettlebells), sustained endurance (aerobic activities), motor/stamina (high intensity cardio). All together, they had amounted to 40 minutes worth of exercise, each activity spanning ten minutes. 

Apart from rating myself across these categories, I had also measured my heart rate, the baseline of which averaged out to 121 BPM. 

Mental activities consisted of writing (creativity), easy thinking activities (crosswords), difficult activities (logic problems) and memory exercises (a popular memory-improvement app had been utilized). All together, activities had also amounted to 40 minutes, each activity spanning ten minutes. 


I'm choosing to not reveal the brands of the substances that had been consumed as it can be easily assumed that results could be swayed by way of a sponsor or other influence. The matcha powder I had purchased had been 100% pure and organic (hopefully) and the coffee I had purchased had been bought from perhaps the most well-known coffee retailer today.

There had been 44mg of caffeine in the 2g of the matcha I had consumed; compared to 260mg in the coffee drink that I would purchase. I had initially sought to try and equalize both levels of caffeine but this would lead to a rather absurd amount of matcha powder - something the average person would not do when consuming a matcha drink 

Substances had been consumed 20 minutes prior to testing - this is what I've realized works best for me when it came to experiencing the onset of effects. I alternated the order of activities, just to ensure a fair balance between mental + physical exertion. For instance, on the first day, I had spent 40 minutes exercising followed by 40 minutes of mental work; on the second day, I did the mental work first before exercising. 


I hesitate to call this a study under the shadows of academia but, in essence, that is exactly what this is. All results presented, apart from figures relating to heart rate, are completely subjective and constrained by the limits of my perception; the placebo effect can never be fulled eliminated but, despite its presence, my experience is presented below not for any scientific consideration but for the perusal of those interested and for the consideration of future studies that will hopefully evolve into more elaborate and scientific inquiries into this subject. 

Part I - Matcha Results:

Over the course of five days, I had consumed 2 grams of matcha (a full teaspoon, amounting to 44mg of caffeine) prior to testing myself both physically and mentally each day, alternating the order of the activities. 

Cardiovascular activity: 7/10  [+2 improvement over baseline]
Strength/Explosiveness: 5/10 [no improvement overbaseline]
Sustained Endurance: 6/10 [+1 improvement over baseline]
Motor/Stamina: 8/10 [+3 improvement over baseline]

Creativity: 7/10 [+2 improvement over baseline]
Multi-tasking: 6/10 [+1 improvement over baseline]
Focus: 7/10 [+2 improvement over baseline]
Holding Attention: 7/10 [+2 improvement over baseline]

* I noticed a very clear cardiovascular improvement, which can possibly be attributed to green tea/matchas influence on the vascular system (see studies below).
* I didn't notice any improvement in my strength capability but did find that I had more sustained performance capacity over the duration of 40 minutes. 
* My exercise/heart-rate charts indicated an increased average of +6 BPM (from 121/BPM baseline to 127 BPM); it is worth nothing that I had expected the BPM to drop as my physical tolerance for the activities had increased. The fact that it had increased could be due to the matcha as much as it could be due to the placebo effect or a myriad of other subtle factors like sleep, diet, or fatigue. 

It's necessary to mention that a number of scientific findings surrounding the innumerable health benefits of green tea catechins (amplified in matcha powder) are those which are associated with long-term use; in other words, there does not seem to be substantive evidence of a direct correlation between consuming matcha powder and experiencing an immediate surge of positive side-effects.¹

It's also worth mentioning that various studied benefits (i.e. anti-inflammation) have been achieved through the ingestion of very high levels of green tea - not those that would typically be consumed by normal dietary standards.²

Despite these facts, there are several indicators that matcha powder does equate to an instantaneous sense of alertness and an increased level of physical energy. A number of studies have observed positive effects of GTE [green tea extract] on fat metabolism at rest and during exercise, following both shorter and longer term intake.³

It was found that short term green tea ingestion significantly elevated fat oxidation and plasma glycerol levels before and post intermittent sprinting exercise. Epinephrine levels were elevated during exercise and norepinephrine levels were increased post-exercise after green tea ingestion.

Ostensibly, it seems that an increase in exercise intensity equates to increased fat oxidation levels; in other words, when exercise levels increase, so does fat oxidation level, and this is what purports to evidence higher energy caused by green tea extract or matcha powder. 

On the whole, some of the more pronounced effects of theanine and γ-aminobutyric acid are that they act to lower blood pressure and regulate brain and nerve functions.⁵ Whether these affects can be observed as an instantaneous side effect (as opposed to a long term side effect) remains to be seen with regards to matcha alone but has proven true with caffeine in general - as will be discussed below. 

Modern scientific techniques have given the basis for the health-promoting effects of green tea, which have been recognized from ancient times. Many of the action mechanisms of green tea and its constituent EGCG are now known and continue to be studied under pretexts of general health improvement spanning across both mental and physical boundaries.

Part II - Coffee Results:

Over the course of five days, I had consumed one serving of coffee (260mg of caffeine) prior to testing myself both physically and mentally each day, alternating the order of the activities. 

Cardiovascular Activity: 6/10 [+1 improvement over baseline]
Strength/Explosiveness: 7/10 [+2 improvement over baseline]
Sustained Endurance: 6/10 [+1 improvement over baseline]
Motor/Stamina: 6/10 [+1 improvement over baseline]

Creativity: 6/10 [+1 improvement over baseline]
Multi-tasking: 8/10 [+3 improvement over baseline]
Focus: 8/10 [+3 improvement over baseline]
Holding Attention: 7/10 [+2 improvement over baseline]

* I noticed more energy in my strength but less when it came to cardio, which had been the opposite of what I had initially been expecting (helps to limit the placebo effect).
* Onset had a more defined quality (a thrust of alertness) as opposed to a gradual effect - likely due to the higher caffeine content
* By far the most noticeable difference and side-effect of coffee had been the come down period, which seemed to initiate roughly midway through my second activity. For instance, if I had completed my mental tasks before my physical tasks, I found that I'd experience a sudden drop in energy midway through my physical tasks (about an hour after consuming coffee). I also noticed that this period would get shorter as the week progressed, which could possibly speak to a building of tolerance. 
* My exercise/heart-rate charts indicated an increased average of +8 BPM (from 121/BPM baseline to 129 BPM). It is necessary to mention that 

It's widely accepted in the scientific community that caffeine is considered to be an ergogenic aid (a physical performance enhancer) across a multitude of different physical modalities. Apart from concentrated caffeine products (i.e. energy drinks or supplements), coffee is by far the most common method of consumption. However, not many will consider consuming coffee before physical exercise as there are innumerable forms of more convenient ways to consume caffeine.¹

However, despite the definitive effect of caffeine on the physiological system, many questions still remain surrounding tolerance, age, genotype, strains, and habituation.²

Likewise, much debate still surrounds the idea of whether or not caffeine, ingested through coffee, is as effective. Recent studies showed that coffee, like caffeine in its pure form, does in fact effectuate the same metabolic effects:

"One hour prior to exercise each athlete consumed drinks consisting of caffeine (5 mg CAF/kg BW), instant coffee (5 mg CAF/kg BW), instant decaffeinated coffee or placebo... Performance times during the TT were significantly faster (∼5.0%) for both caffeine and coffee when compared to placebo and decaf... The significantly faster performance times were similar for both caffeine and coffee. Average power for caffeine and coffee during the TT was significantly greater when compared to placebo and decaf ... The present study illustrates that both caffeine (5 mg/kg/BW) and coffee (5 mg/kg/BW) consumed 1 h prior to exercise can improve endurance exercise performance."³

The physically-enhancing effects of both coffee - and caffeine in general - cross the entire spectrum of physical exercise, not limiting itself to simply metabolic or endurance style activities, as studies have shown that there is a clear correlation between caffeine and increased muscle strength and muscle power.

Ultimately, caffeine itself is a widely-regarded and scientifically accepted method of boosting physical performance with wide-ranging applications; as expected, caffeine content is stronger in coffee and therefore effectuates more significant findings. In other words, where the scientific community seems to be more hesitant to accept Green Tea Extract as something more than a general health supplement, coffee and caffeine is easily regarded as a stimulant for enhancing physical capability. 

Part III: Survey

A short survey had been distributed to 19 respondents who had previously experienced exercising while supplementing with coffee and green tea/matcha in the past as a means of boosting their performance. Asked about their experiences, they had this to say:

11/19 preferred coffee over green tea/matcha as a supplement to exercise

Asked why they prefer coffee over matcha, these 11 respondents cited the following reasons: increased energy (7), availability (2), taste (1), mental effects (1). 

Asked why they prefer matcha over coffee, these 6 respondents cited the following reasons: Mental clarity/calmness (3), less caffeine (3), taste (1), versatility with other supplements (1).

Other notes: 

10/19 found that their tolerance to caffeine would build over time
13/19 found that they had developed a dependence on caffeine 
8/19 found that caffeine unequivocally improved their physical performance
2/19 found that caffeine unequivocally improved their physical performance

The survey did not address aspects relating to mental activity. 

Part IV - Repetition

The original study discussed above had initially included a third caffeine booster - that of energy drinks - however, halfway through my study of this third substance, the COVID pandemic had disrupted my efforts and I figured to simply cut it out entirely. 

In an effort to further validate my initial findings, I had decided to repeat some elements of the first study during a shorter, more fragmented time period, this time only focusing on the physical aspect of the study. 

Over the course of 11 consecutive days, I had alternated between matcha and coffee while self-isolating. I had included a buffer day between each study day in an attempt to curtail any effect of tolerance. The schedule resembled the following:

Day 1: Matcha powder
Day 2: No substance
Day 3: Coffee
Day 4: No substance
Day 5: Matcha powder
Day 6: No substance
Day 7: Coffee
Day 8: No substance
Day 9: Matcha powder 
Day 10: No substance
Day 11: Coffee

Physical activities, more limited at home, consisted of cardio (cycling machine), sustained endurance (pull ups) and explosiveness/strength (burpees). 

As mentioned, I did not engage in any mental activities during this second self-study. 

Baseline results:

Cardio: 5/10 
Sustained endurance: 5/10
Explosiveness/stamina: 5/10
Heart rate: 129/BPM

Matcha 2.0 Results
Cardio: 7/10 [+2 improvement over baseline]
Sustained endurance: 6/10 [+1 improvement over baseline]
Explosiveness/strength: 6/10 [+1 improvement over baseline]
Heart rate: 132/BPM [+3 BPM over baseline]

* Like the first study, I had noticed an increased level of sustained endurance, a higher heart rate (+3BPM) and a slightly improved cardiovascular ability. 

Coffee 2.0 Results 
Cardio: 6/10 [+1 improvement over baseline]
Sustained endurance: 7/10 [+2 improvement over baseline]
Explosiveness/strength: 7/10 [+2 improvement over baseline]
Heart rate: 128/BPM [-1 BPM under baseline]

* Like the first study, strength seemed to increase with caffeine content
* The same come down period had also been experienced
* The lowered heart rate (-1 BPM compared to baseline) could possibly be explained due to fatigue over the course of 11 days and an elbow injury that began affecting my ability to do pullups.

Part IV - Final observations

Going into these trials, I half anticipated that matcha (a more steady and moderate serving of caffeine) would have been preferable across all facets of this study; I expected a lull in energy from coffee that would not be felt with matcha powder, rendering matcha the preferred option.

However, the simple correlation of more caffeine = more energy is the driving force behind why people depend on coffee for boosts of energy in the first place; the scientific community itself, as mentioned in the research portions above, has been much quicker to recognize coffee as a means of physical enhancement than it has green tea or green tea extract or matcha powder - something often relegated to a general health supplement. 

For myself, the more subtle effect of matcha won out in terms of the mental boost - there was a fluidity to the effects in cognitive performance that can't be compared to the alertness gained from coffee - which provided a more disordered energy that ramped up fast but also declined rather quickly. 

Physically, coffee seemed to give me the boost I had been looking for in terms of immediate and sustained energy - providing a good blend of continual energy and initial explosiveness throughout my 40 minute exercise regimen - assuming that I started with the physical exercises before the mental exercises. 

The come down from coffee would occur after about an hour and would happen sooner as my tolerance seemed to increase; the actual effect of the coffee did not become more subtle as I expected it to but could very well happen beyond a mere week of study. 

It's also surely worth mentioning that there are countless other factors at play beyond just the types of caffeine I had consumed; tolerance levels of these substances play a big role; my gut bacteria may be responding to the variable foods I ate throughout the week; I may have had more or less sleep; I had experienced incremental fatigue throughout the month; the weather had even played a role as a heatwave moved through my area during the last 4 days of the study. 

Lastly, it's worth mentioning the intense subjectivity of how these compounds react in each of us - coffee in particular makes me very jittery, whilst it have little effect on others who could very well experience over-alertness from green tea instead. 

Like any study, this effort had been made to develop more effective questions rather than simply cultivating answers; forthcoming studies will look at caffeine boosters in more physiological and psychological detail with more participants involved and, as well, new spectrums of measurement.

If you use caffeine as a supplement to physical activity and would be interested in participating in a future study (2021), please reach out