Can Cayenne Pepper Improve Athletic Performance?

Can Cayenne Improve Athletic Performance? Can It Help Build Muscle, Burn Fat and/or Improve Cardiovascular Performance? The Answers May Surprise You

by Glenn Reschke

Up to 1998, there were over 3,000 clinical studies conducted on cayenne pepper and its active ingredient capsaicin (Quillin, 1998, p. 6).

There have been scores more since. Not many of those studies, though, have been exclusively conducted regarding its athletic-enhancement properties.

But there have been a few.

According to a study conducted by the Department of Athletics at the University of Inchon in South Korea, cayenne improves carbohydrate oxidation.

The study says (1995), "These results suggest that hot red pepper ingestion stimulates carbohydrate oxidation at rest and during exercise" (Lim, et al, para. 1).

Another study conducted by the University of Tsukuba in Japan confirmed this saying, "The carbohydrate oxidation was significantly higher in the red-pepper diet period than in the control diet period while the lipid oxidation was lower in the red-pepper diet period than in the control diet period for 150 min after the meal" (Yoshioka, 1995, para. 1). But what is "carbohydrate oxidation"?

It basically means the body's burning of extra carbohydrates. Extra carbohydrates can become bodyfat and thus it's essentially a thermogenic reaction due to exercise stress and is highly desirable. It is a key component of weight loss.

SIDEBAR: As a side note, one of the advantages of weight training is not only do our bodies develop muscle to deal with the stress of the weight training but when our bodies are at rest, the muscle is in a thermogenic state -- we are losing unwanted and unneeded bodyfat!


As someone who is interested in long-term cardiovascular fitness, cayenne is one of my supplement staples. I have long known cayenne is great for the entire cardiovascular system and that its rubefacient capability can remove toxins like bad LDL cholesterol build up from my arteries.

I had never given it much thought, however, regarding athletic performance. As part of my fitness regime, I run two to three times a week. Twice a week, I run, or jog, a minimum of three miles.

I have many different routes I have mapped out near my home that allow me to do this. In addition, I also do sprinting exericses and will also run multiple 950 yard repetitions.

For example, I will run one 950 yard repetition, rest two minutes, which I time on my watch (it has stopwatch functionality) and then run another, culminating with six of these repetitions.

Recently, I ran a seven-mile route I like with a pace of 7 minutes and 17 seconds per mile. When I checked my watch upon the run's completion, I was very surprised to say the least. I simply let my body dictate the pace, and while I felt I was running at a good clip, I didn't consciously seek to push it. Not too bad for a middle-aged guy.

I feel confident I could have bested that pace if I had pushed it. A week ago as of this writing, I ran a 950-yard distance in 3 minutes 45 seconds and 94 tens of a second. I did push myself on that as I wanted to see how fast I could run it if I really ran it hard.

While I have been running for five years now for cardiovascular fitness purposes, I can testify that the cayenne supplementation has helped me.

Cayenne & VO2 Max

I have no study to offer you, only anecdotal information. I feel confident in saying, however, that if you are an endurance athlete of some kind, i.e., long-distance running, rowing, cross-country running, cross-country skiing, triathlon training, and bicycling, cayenne pepper supplementation will improve your aerobic capacity or your VO2 max.

For clarity, let's talk about VO2 max briefly.

Just what is VO2 max? It is "a measure of the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use. It is measured in millilitres per kilogramme of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min). As you increase your effort when you exercise, the amount of oxygen you consume to produce energy (and hence the rate at which you exhale carbon dioxide) increases. However, there is a maximum level of oxygen consumption, beyond which increases in exercise intensity don’t lead to further increases in oxygen consumption. This level of oxygen consumption is called the VO2 max. (The initials simply stand for volume of oxygen. Some experts believe that VO2 max is a key physiological determinant of an athlete’s running performance, and that it is an important objective of a training program to improve it. Some experts believe that VO2 max is a key physiological determinant of an athlete’s running performance, and that it is an important objective of a training programme to improve it" (see

How does it do it? Again, I believe it is due to cayenne's rubefacient capabilities. It strips and eliminates arterial plaque from the artery walls and removes toxins from the blood. Cayenne has an effect upon the entire cardiovascular system and that allows for greater VO2 max.

What About Cayenne and Weight Training? Does It Help?

To date, I have found no clinical evidence that supports the theory that cayenne helps in anaerobic activity or in muscle building.

If you have found such a study, I would love to read it so if you could please email it to me, and its location online (or offline), I would appreciate it.

So, does cayenne enhance athletic performance? Yes and no.

Cayenne is not a muscle building supplement, but it will help with aerobic training and help facilitate weight loss (check out this article here within this website for more on cayenne and weight loss).

If you are interested in supplementing with cayenne, check out this page for more information. Or, for a product price list, go here.

I hope this information was helpful to you. Thanks for visiting this webpage.

Yours in health,

Heinerman, John. (1996). The health benefits of cayenne. CT: Keats Publishing, Inc.

Lim, K., et al. (1997). Dietary red pepper ingestion increases carbohydrate oxidation at rest and during exercise in runners. Retrieved from  1997 Mar;29(3):355-61. 

Quillin, Patrick. (1998). The healing power of cayenne pepper. OH: The Leader Co., Inc.

Yoshioka M., et al. (1995). Effects of red-pepper diet on the energy metabolism in men. Retrieved from J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo) 1995 Dec;41(6):647-56.