Caffeine to Improve Running Performance

Coach Casey · January 21, 2019

There are a lot of goals that runners set to add, or more likely drop, things in their daily routines. Often times those goals revolve around one of the most enticing, delicious, invigorating elixirs on earth…caffeine! Don’t worry, this is not a blog about the negatives of caffeine and how you should eliminate it from your routine. Instead, I’ll present you with some facts, a dash of figures, and let you come to you own conclusion about caffeine and running.

SPOILER: the conclusion is that your java love is totally acceptable!

Caffeine has its positives

Caffeine has the best performance effects in short duration events. It stimulates the nervous system to respond with faster, more efficient muscle contractions. However, endurance athletes can also get benefits from caffeine. Studies show that caffeine in endurance events serves more to aid fatigue resistance (cyclists hit their exhaustion point 15 minutes later!) and limit perceived exertion. This means that with the proper caffeine before exercise you can go longer and feel fresher at a higher intensity. That 7:00 minute mile will feel more like a smooth and relaxed 8:00 minute jaunt!

*BUNK Alert: caffeine within itself doesn’t provide any additional energy to athletes, according to Emma Barclough, a senior sports nutritionist for Science in Sport, “…over a long period of time, such as a half marathon or above, it helps you maintain a work level.”

There is a perfect amount

For maximum benefits the recommended amount of caffeine is 3-6 milligrams per kilogram (about 2.2 pounds) of bodyweight. Quick and dirty math: take half of your bodyweight and multiply it by 3, 4, 5, or 6 depending on how feisty you’re feeling. Know that the direct relationship between consuming caffeine and running is not continuous, you won’t necessarily get 10x the positive effects by consuming 10x the recommended amount.

Type does matter

Combined with a moderate amount of carbohydrates, caffeine can have an even more positive effect. Sticking with specific sport-focused products is the best bet. Gels (Clif Shot, Maurten or Huma), gums (Run Gum), and energy shots/drink mixes contain caffeine plus necessary electrolytes and carbohydrates without the added sugar and EXTREME serving size. While most products come in non-caffeinated offerings, a little extra boost from the caffeinated version is great. Outside of training, coffee and tea are your best bet for simple sources of caffeine. Avoid the major marketed energy drinks, find a caffeine source that you enjoy, and stick to it!

Every individual reacts differently

Know your body! Some people may respond to caffeine during performance with increased, focus, alertness and a decrease in perceived fatigue. Others however may respond the opposite way with nausea, headaches, the shakes, and bowel issues. These will clearly have a negative effect on performance. Training your system to react positively before and during exercise may take some time but could pay dividends. Take time to learn your body’s reaction before combining caffeine and running.

Don’t forget to get out there and use that caffeinated energy! Join your first Charge run right now!

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