There’s now fresh evidence that coffee can perk up fat burn and that your level of fitness affects fat oxidation. Research also reveals how exercise during pregnancy can safeguard your child from disease, and the surprising truth about what really sparks the runner’s high – it’s all in this month’s research roundup.

How to perk up your fat burn

Caffeine has long been a commonly-consumed ergogenic substance, but the science behind its performance benefits has been scarce – until now. A new study not only confirms caffeine is beneficial for fat burn, but also highlights the ideal dose and the best time of day. The findings come after scientists from the University of Granada put a group of men through an exercise test on four different occasions, each seven days apart. All elements were standardized, except 30-minutes before the workout some participants were given 3 mg/kg of caffeine, others a placebo. Researchers measured the participant’s fat oxidation and found that those who had the equivalent of a strong cup of coffee half an hour before aerobic exercise experienced greater fat burn. They also found that the effect was more dramatic in the afternoon than in the morning. So, if you want to increase fat burn during exercise, a strong brew before your afternoon workout is the way to go.

The fitter you are, the better you burn fat

There is plenty of evidence that exercise is a great way to burn fat, and now new research indicates that the fat burning benefits of exercise increase exponentially. It seems the fitter you are, the better you become at burning fat – but only if you’re female. These findings come after researchers put 73 healthy adults through a cycling fitness test, measuring key lifestyle and biological indicators for optimal fat burn. To find out why fit females were such efficient fat burners, the scientists delved deeper into the molecular elements of muscle and fat tissue by taking fat and muscle biopsies from participants. They found a correlation between muscle proteins that break down stored fat and the proteins that transport fatty acids into the muscle, resulting in a greater ability to burn fat. Interestingly, the correlations were only apparent in females and researchers say they’re yet to understand why. They also point out one important fact; while our ability to burn fat as a fuel can mitigate future weight gain, fat burn alone does not lead to weight loss. Weight loss relies on a calorie deficit, which all comes down to consuming fewer calories than we expend.

How moms-to-be can ensure their child’s future health

Helping children live their healthiest lives possible could come down to the exercise their mothers do while their offspring are still in the womb. During a recent study of lab mice, researchers explored the metabolism and epigenetic modification of DNA in the offspring of obese mice. They found that when a mother exercised during pregnancy, it prevented the transmission of metabolic disease from either parent to the offspring. Assuming the same applies during human pregnancies, it adds another compelling reason to exercise during pregnancy. Researcher Zhen Yan, Ph.D. says it shows that regular exercise may not only benefit the pregnancy and labor but also the health of the baby for the long run. "Regular exercise is probably the most promising intervention that will help us deter the pandemic of chronic diseases in the aging world, as it can disrupt the vicious cycle of parents-to-child transmission of diseases."

The truth behind ‘runner’s high’

It’s often referred to as a ‘runner’s high’, a gentle buzz of euphoria that some runners experience midway through their run. For years, scientists have attributed it to endorphins, as the presence of these natural painkillers seems to rise in runner’s bloodstreams. However, new research suggests that the euphoric sense of bliss has nothing to do with endorphins, and it’s actually more closely linked to marijuana. This new study came about after scientists questioned the endorphin theory, knowing that the molecular structure of endorphins means they cannot cross the blood-brain barrier and have an emotional or mental effect. They put this to the test using a drug to block the endorphin receptors and found that even when the receptors were blocked runners still felt the euphoria and reduced anxiety known as the runner’s high. Research suggests that endocannabinoids are a likelier stimulant. These biochemicals, which are similar in chemical structure to cannabis, can cross the blood-brain barrier and flood our system during pleasurable activities such as orgasms … and running (yes, running is considered that pleasurable for some!).