Five Ways Tea Can Boost Your Performance, Naturally 

Five Ways Tea Can Boost Your Performance, Naturally

By Maria Uspenski

We’ve heard a lot of buzz about tea for endurance athletes lately and we wanted get the real scoop so we talked to our friend Maria Uspenski, founder of The Tea Spot, author of Cancer Hates Tea, and certified fitness nutritionist. Here’s what she had to say:

If you’re searching for all-natural, sugar-free, plant-based solutions, your new nutrition hack could be the world’s oldest and most popular energy drink. Tea is second only to water in global consumption. Nothing could be simpler than this infusion which is still more than 99 percent water. Yet, this little leaf contains hundreds of active ingredients with multi-dimensional benefits. Over the past ten years, more than 5,000 medical studies have been published on its health benefits, making tea the most researched source of polyphenol antioxidants in the human diet. The most touted benefits come from the polyphenols in tea, but many direct benefits to athletes arise not only from tea’s catechin polyphenols, but other active ingredients which include caffeine, L-Theanine, Vitamin C, and complex polyphenols. This article presents five mechanisms by which recent studies have shown tea to assist in each of the key stages of an athlete’s journey: Hydration, Energy, Race-readiness, Endurance, and Recovery.

1. Hydration

Tea, as an alternative to water, can vastly expand your hydration options to encourage sipping throughout the day. Recent research dispels the common belief that tea dehydrates. Even though it contains caffeine, a 2016 study which compared 13 common beverages showed tea as super-hydrating, that is to say slightly more hydrating than the same quantity of water. [1] Tea can make hydrating more exciting, thanks to its myriad of different types and flavors, as well as adding the extra benefits of a steady flow of antioxidants, amino acids and vitamins to your water intake. For performance-level hydration, and all-natural recovery drink, green or white tea can be cold brewed in coconut water, which adds potassium and magnesium for electrolytes and easily-digested carbohydrates to the tea’s naturally-stimulating caffeine and L-Theanine. Our favorite powerhouse tea to use in this recovery drink recipe is matcha green tea powder, which you simply add to coconut water, shake, and reap the benefits.

2. Energy

For this, we recommend sipping your favorite black tea, like English Breakfast or Earl Grey, roughly 45 minutes prior to working out. The stamina boost from tea [2] can provide an all-natural lift that may be more amenable to longer workouts (> 1 hr) than coffee. Like coffee, tea contains caffeine, although only one-fifth to half as much depending on the tea type and how it’s brewed. The buzz from tea comes from three additional molecules as well: theophylline, theobromine and L-Theanine. These also cross the blood-brain barrier and act synergistically with caffeine. Theophylline helps ease breathing by relaxing smooth muscles in the airway, while activating the rate and force of cardiac contractions. [3] Theobromine stimulates blood flow, leading to a net reduction in blood pressure. In combination with caffeine, L-Theanine is especially helpful in how it acts on some critical pathways in the brain. This molecule neutralizes the jittery and edgy effects of caffeine, while enhancing the mind-focusing aspects. [4]

3. Race-readiness

Pre-race stimulation is important to athletes but the source and nature of the stimulation is something that should be considered individually.

Each athlete seeks their own ideal pre-race state, depending on the event, and their psychological state. For mental stimulation, L-Theanine in tea promotes alpha brainwave production, simultaneously inducing a state of relaxation and mental alertness, much like the one achieved in deep meditation [5]. It also increases levels of dopamine, which is involved in the regulation of cognition and attention. L-Theanine also increases the levels of the neurotransmitter GABA (Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid) in the brain. GABA works like the regulator that ratchets down the activity of the nerve cells responsible for stress, fear and anxiety. To get into the zone, try teas that are high in L-Theanine and low in caffeine like white tea, or specifically Meditative Mind with aromatic jasmine green tea.

Get Things Moving

As every athlete knows, it’s critical on race day mornings to get things moving in the digestion realm. Pu’erh tea (aged tea) can help kickstart the system as a gentle laxative, making it an excellent functional choice for post-breakfast or pre-race. Pu’erh is highly oxidized black tea that’s aged in a secondary oxidization which keeps it biologically active. With continued microbial fermentation, pu’erh tea transforms more dynamically than any other tea type. The resulting tea is mellow in character with a sweet taste and heavy body, often classified by its year of production, much like wine vintages. The major phenolic compound in pu’erh, strictinin, has strong antibacterial and gentle laxative qualities which can help benefit digestion and prevent constipation. [6] Try our fan favorite pu’erh tea blends—Morning Mojo and Bolder Breakfast—which are accented by notes of vanilla and chocolate, respectively.

4. Endurance

Green tea has been shown to increase proficiency during aerobic activity. The tea catechin EGCg has been proven to be effective in increasing calorie burn and the release of energy from fat stores, thus speeding up the liver’s fat burning capacity. This results in improved exercise output. [7] There are varying results from studies examining the effect of tea on endurance time to exhaustion. The ergogenic effects of caffeine in combination with L-Theanine in tea, however, can sustain the lift for longer periods of time while avoiding the negative crash effects. Our athlete customers rave about Keep Fit green tea blend with yerba mate, matcha, and uplifting citrus notes. Pro tip: Throw a Keep Fit tea bag into your water bottle to brew and sip while training.

5. Recovery

Much research has demonstrated that intense or prolonged exercise generates considerable amounts of reactive oxygen species (ROS) within the human body.  ROS can produce oxidative stress, that is, damage to fats, proteins, nucleic acids, and – ultimately – muscle cells.  Such oxidative stress has been linked with fatigue and overtraining, and it has been suggested that the human body’s natural oxidant-defense system is not powerful enough to prevent the stress associated with rugged exercise.  Thus, the argument goes, athletes need to accelerate their intakes of foods rich in antioxidants – like tea. Antioxidant effects come from the ability of tea polyphenols to limit the amount of free radicals by binding to ROS. Additional anti­-inflammatory effects assisting in the prevention of exercise induced muscle damage may be a result of increased production of Interleukin 10, an anti-­inflammatory. [8] For this we recommend teas high in antioxidants and low in caffeine, like green tea blends such as Genmaicha or Grasshopper Green, as well as Natural Glow organic white tea.

The Science Behind Tea

All tea comes from a single species of plant native to Southeast Asia, Camellia sinensis. White and green teas are dried almost immediately and are very little oxidized, making them closer in appearance and chemistry to a fresh tea leaf. Longer oxidation periods render the leaves darker and result in tea flavors and aromas that we find in oolong and black teas.

All fresh whole leaf teas have similar yields of total antioxidant content, which is about 240 mg per 2 grams of tea leaves, a standard serving size. It’s the proportion of different antioxidants which vary between tea types. Green and white teas are richer in catechin polyphenols [9], of which the most dynamic player is EGCg – Epigallocatechin gallate. The body of research on green tea polyphenols is strongly focused on their support of the human immune system, by helping to block the biochemical mechanisms involved in the onset and progress of disease and cellular degeneration. [10]. Another important active ingredient in green tea is L-Theanine. This alpha brainwave-enhancing amino acid makes the caffeine effect of tea a sustained lift free from big peaks or energy dips. [11] Black teas have developed more complex polyphenols during extended oxidation, which are sought after for their antibacterial, detoxifying and vascular benefits. [12]

Find high-quality whole leaf teas and Steepware® gear online at Learn more about the health benefits of tea in Cancer Hates Tea, also available at

Exclusive Athlinks Offer:  Use code COLDBREWTEA with purchase of $20 or more from The Tea Spot today.

Maria Uspenski is the founder of The Tea Spot, whose mission is to advance healthier living through the everyday enjoyment of whole leaf tea. The Boulder, Colorado based company donates ten percent of all sales in-kind to cancer and community wellness. Their message is simple and powerful – tea in its freshest form is sustainable, and renders exceptional flavor and unmatched health benefits. Uspenski is the author of “Cancer Hates Tea”, published by Page Street Books in 2016, and was recognized as the “Top Tea Health Advocate” at the 2017 World Tea Expo. She has been featured in the Huffington Post, and on television, radio and podcast interviews for her success as a social entrepreneur and certified tea and fitness nutrition expert.



[1] Ronald J Maughan, et al. A randomized trial to assess the potential of different beverages to affect hydration status: development of a beverage hydration index. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 2016

[2] Eric D. Green. Effect of Green Tea Extract on Endurance Performance in Young Adults. Georgia State University, Department of Nutrition, 5-14-2010

[3] Biaggioni, I, et al. Caffeine and theophylline as adenosine receptor antagonists in humans. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1991 Aug;258(2):588-93.

[4] Ai Yoto, et al. Effects of L-Theanine or caffeine intake on changes in blood pressure under physical and psychological stresses. J Physiol Anthropol. 2012; 31(1): 28. PMCID: PMC3518171 Published online 2012 Oct 29. doi: 10.1186/1880­6805­31­28

[5] Nobre, AC, et al. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:167-8.

[6] Sheng-Kuo Hsieh, et al. Antibacterial and laxative activities of strictinin isolated from Pu’er tea (Camellia sinensis). Journal of Food and Drug Analysis 24 (2016) 722e729

[7] Justin D Roberts et al, The effect of a decaffeinated green tea extract formula on fat oxidation, body composition and exercise performance.  J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015; 12: 1. PMCID: PMC4307170

[8] Serafini M., Del Rio D., Yao D. N., Bettuzzi S., Peluso I. (2011). Health benefits of tea, in Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, 2nd Edn, Chapter 12, eds Benzie I. F. F., Wachtel-Galor S., editors. (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; ), 239–262 10.1201/b10787-13

[9] Shannon, E., Jaiswal, A.K. and Abu-Ghannam, N. Polyphenolic content and antioxidant capacity of white, green, black, and herbal teas: a kinetic study. Food Research 2 (1) : 1 – 11 (February 2018)

[10] Sarah C. Forester and Joshua D. Lambert. Antioxidant effects of green tea. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2011 Jun; 55(6): 844–854.

[11] Haskell, CF, et al. The effects of L-theanine, caffeine and their combination on cognition and mood. Biol Psychol. 2008 Feb;77(2):113-22.

[12] Khan and Mukhtar. Tea and Health: Studies in Humans. Curr Pharm Des. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2014 Jun 12.



Athlinks Staff
Posts by the Athlinks Staff are authored by our in-house group of athletes and subject matter experts in the fields of performance sports, nutrition, race organization, and training.

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  1. Over the years I’ve done some basic research on tea for all the reasons mentioned in this article…wondering if or why Red Zinger wasn’t mentioned for antioxidant benefits. If there are any opinions, I would enjoy reading other perspectives.

  2. Hello Jeremy, Although Red Zinger doesn’t contain any actual tea leaves, it does have a mix of herbs which have benefits in their own right: Hibiscus, rosehips, peppermint, lemongrass, orange peel, natural flavors, lemon verbena, licorice and wild cherry bark. As a naturally caffeine-free herbal, hibiscus is a great way to stay healthfully hydrated any time of day. It’s a natural source of Vitamins A & C, and anthocyanin antioxidants. It may be a heart-healthy dietary addition. Medical research shows that it’s promising in treating high blood pressure and possibly, high cholesterol. Since the main antioxidants in hibiscus are anthocyanins (different category than those in the tea plant) it makes an excellent complement to tea! Maria Uspenski


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