The Caffeinated Runner

It makes less sense to use caffeine as a daily workout performance enhancer, for two reasons. First, workouts are seldom maximal efforts, and the rationale for caffeine supplementation is to enhance maximal performance. Second, the ergogenic effects of caffeine consumption decrease with habituation. For this reason, if you are a regular coffee drinker, you should cease coffee consumption four to six days before participating in a race.

More: 5 Common Pre-Race Nutrition Blunders

Caffeine and Health

In moderation, caffeine consumption does not cause any health problems. In fact, a daily cup of joe is good for you. The health benefits of coffee come from its caffeine content and its unique blend of antioxidants. According to Harvard Medical School, "Studies show that the risk for type two diabetes is lower among regular coffee drinkers than among those who don't drink it. Also, coffee may reduce the risk of developing gallstones, discourage the development of colon cancer, improve cognitive function, reduce the risk of liver damage in people at high risk for liver disease, and reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease."

However, heavy caffeine use can cause or exacerbate problems ranging from headache to insomnia, and it is possible to become physically dependent on the drug. Caffeine is especially harmful when used as a means to stimulate artificial wakefulness or energy in those suffering from conditions such as chronic fatigue. So if you do like caffeine, limit yourself to one mug of coffee or green tea in the morning. Those who rely on regular "caffeine injections" throughout the day are well advised to cut back.

Caffeine and Sports Drinks

A new alternative to taking a single large dose of caffeine prior to racing is to consume a caffeinated sports drink throughout races. In a recent study, conducted at the University of Birmingham in England, researchers looked at the effect of caffeine on exogenous carbohydrate oxidation (i.e. the rate at which carbs consumed in a supplement are burned) during exercise. Cyclists received either a six percent glucose solution, a six percent glucose solution plus caffeine, or plain water during a two-hour indoor cycling test. Researchers used indirect calorimetry to measure the amounts and proportions of fat and carbohydrate oxidized during the test.

They found that the rate of exogenous carbohydrate oxidation was 26 percent higher in the cyclists receiving carbs with caffeine than in those receiving carbs without caffeine. The study's authors concluded that caffeine may have increased the rate of glucose absorption in the intestine, providing fuel to the working muscles more quickly. The likely effect on performance is the ability to work harder for a longer period of time without becoming fatigued.

Another recent study looked at the effects of consuming a caffeinated sports drink on performance in a warm environment. Sixteen highly trained cyclists completed three trials. Subjects cycled for 135 minutes, alternating between 60 percent and 75 percent VO2max every 15 minutes for the first 120 minutes, followed by a 15-minute performance ride. In one trial they consumed flavored water; in another, a conventional carbohydrate sports drink; and in another, a caffeinated sports drink.

The cyclists completed 15 percent to 23 percent more work during the caffeine trial than in the other two trials. Ratings of perceived exertion were lower with the caffeinated sports drink than with the placebo and the conventional sports drink. After cycling, maximal strength loss was found to be two-thirds less for the caffeinated drink than for the other beverages.

This new research suggests that using a caffeinated sports drink may be the best way to go in races.

More: What You Need to Know About Runner Hydration

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