read Can Caffeine Help with Running Performance?

Can Caffeine Help with Running Performance?

Role of caffeine in running performance

Caffeine is a psychoactive substance, which is a natural stimulant found in plant sources like tea, coffee, and cacao. Caffeine affects our central nervous system. It crosses the blood-brain barrier to stimulate the Central Nervous system (CNS), which leads to alertness and reduces the perception of tiredness. This stimulation is also known as the caffeine kick

For runners, this caffeine kick can improve focus, increase alertness, enhance mood, and reduce fatigue. Caffeine may also increase your running speed because of mental stimulation. It may delay the time to exhaustion and increase tolerance to fatigue. So, with caffeine, you can run at a better speed for a longer duration without feeling exhausted, thereby improving your overall performance. 

Also Read: Superfoods for Runners: How They Help Improve Performance

The body’s response to caffeine may differ among individuals. While some may experience gastric issues, such as nausea and diarrhea, or feel jittery when they drink coffee before running, others may not have any of these problems. 

If you do not face any issues after consuming caffeine, you may have it before your run to benefit from its effects.

How much caffeine do you need to improve performance?

When 6mg/kg bodyweight caffeine is ingested 45-60 minutes before running, performance improvements are observed frequently. Here is a table depicting the caffeine content in common beverages.

Drink Caffeine content per 30ml
Espresso cup40mg
Tea3-6mg
Soft drinks3-5mg

Studies also state that lower doses like 3mg/kg body weight of caffeine show similar effects on running activities.  However, higher doses of caffeine, such as 9mg/kg do not show any additional improvements. So, over-consuming caffeine may cause side-effects at the expense of the benefits. Moreover, caffeine provides the most ergogenic (performance-enhancing) benefit in temperatures between 12°C and 33°C. Habitual caffeine drinkers might need to increase their dosage to reap the ergogenic benefits. 

Caffeine products for runners 

It is observed that caffeine is much more effective when combined with sucrose or a carbohydrate source, such as a sports drink. This combination provides a glycogen-sparing effect. So, it does not utilize glycogen or glucose as a source of energy. Instead, it uses fat for energy and delays exhaustion. 

Caffeine from natural sources might contain some components,  such as vitamins and methylxanthines, that can interfere or interact with its effects. So, it can be a wise choice to supplement it if it suits you. Caffeine supplementation is a good option to get caffeine from one source. A few caffeine supplements are:

  • Sports gel with caffeine have 100mg of caffeine per serving
  • Caffeine tablets that have 30mg of caffeine per tablet
  • Pre-workout drinks with  other stimulants 

Also Read: Supplements: How Do Runners Benefit

Side-effects of caffeine for runners

Having more than 6mg/kg body weight of caffeine can result in various side-effects, such as:  

  • You may feel jittery and irritable
  • You may feel nauseous
  • You may have headaches and migraines, which can adversely  affect your performance
  • You may face trouble falling asleep; so, if you already have sleep disturbances, consider skipping caffeine or restrict your intake to  3mg/kg body weight before running

What should runners remember while having caffeine?

Here is a list of points to keep in mind while consuming caffeine: 

  • Consult an expert before taking caffeine supplements and pre-workout drinks
  • Target on having 3mg/kg-6mg/kg body weight of caffeine 45-60 minutes before the race
  • Refrain from consuming too much caffeine as its side-effects can impact your performance 
  • Try products with caffeine during the training period
  • Avoid caffeine for seven days before the race to achieve the best results
  • Limit the intake of caffeine in the day for minimal side-effects and sound sleep
  • Do not have any caffeine drinks post 5pm or six hours before bedtime for better sleep and post-run recovery

Now that you may have an understanding of the role of caffeine in running, consume it wisely to derive optimum benefits.

References 
1. Tarnopolsky MA, Atkinson SA, MacDougall JD, Sale DG, Sutton JR. Physiological responses to caffeine during endurance running in habitual caffeine users. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 1989 Aug;21(4):418-424.
2. Ganio MS, Klau JF, Casa DJ, Armstrong LE, Maresh CM. Effect of caffeine on sport-specific endurance performance: a systematic review. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jan;23(1):315-24. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818b979a. PMID: 19077738.
3. Ganio, Matthew S; Klau, Jennifer F; Casa, Douglas J; Armstrong, Lawrence E; Maresh, Carl M Effect of Caffeine on Sport-Specific Endurance Performance: A Systematic Review, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: January 2009 – Volume 23 – Issue 1 – p 315-324 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818b979a
4. Melanie A. Heckman, Jorge Weil, Elvira Gonzalez De Mejia. Caffeine (1, 3, 7-trimethylxanthine) in Foods: A Comprehensive Review on Consumption, Functionality, Safety, and Regulatory matters.https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2010.01561

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