Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Let's Take a Ride to the Cafe: Caffeine and Exercise

Hey, it's not a review today! Though, if find the time I might add one later.

How's your week going so far?

Photo/illustration credit: Abe Green

Let's talk about coffee for a minute, or just caffiene in general. Have you had any yet this morning? I'm having a cup right now and I might have another this afternoon. Coffee is the only caffeinated beverage I have on a regular basis. I have 3 kids under 5 y'all. I try to stay away from soda (saying soda sounds weird, being from the south I grew up calling everything coke, orange coke was my favorite) because of all the sugar and other junk they put in it. I drink my coffee black.

Being a runner I'm used to seeing all these articles talking about whether caffeine is good or bad for your athletic performance. Usually, it seems the author is trying to find reasons to keep drinking so much caffeine. You also always have the old adage of caffeine being a stimulant, which, sure, it stimulates your brain, muscles, reflexes, and such, but it also stimulates your colon. You don't want your colon stimulated when your running. Before you run, definitely, but not during. For this reason I don't drink coffee before running.

Some runners swear by it though, not only do they have coffee to help them, um, go before a run, they also have it to benefit their workouts. If you've checked out the nutrition/supplement stock at your local running store, you know that the majority of chews and gels contain caffeine (there's even caffeinated gum), so you're not just getting a carb boost during your run but a burst of energy from caffeine as well. Extra energy to push through a long run or launch your turbo power for a good kick at the finish is nice, but it just doesn't agree with me.

While I stay away from caffeine when running, cycling is a different story. I can drink my morning cup of coffee before a bike ride and be fine and the couple of times I've had caffeinated chews have been okay as well. Until recently I didn't know that coffee was so big in the cycling community. Sure, any athlete wants that extra edge, but I didn't know it was such a "thing" with cyclists until I saw this GCN video.

You should see a video above this line of text.

The hosts seemed to talk like they were going to getting more extreme responses as far as how much coffee was consumed, but it still shows how much cyclists like their coffee. It makes a lot of sense for cyclists, since unlike most runners, they often race for several consecutive days. While this article is from Runner's World, it talks about the benefits of caffeine in those situations.

I like the association that cycling has with coffee aside from the potential benefits anyway. You get together with some friends, ride out to a cafe, have a cup or two as a nice break and pick-me-up, then head back. Seems like a pleasant way to spend a Saturday morning to me, anyone want to join me?

So, you might be thinking, "what's the downside?" While some suggest that the caffeine could cause you to go too hard and subsequently bonk (just take in more carbs plus caffeine, right?), most studies haven't found any negative effects associated with using caffeine for athletic benefits, though it does affect everyone differently. I definitely wouldn't recommend loading up on caffeine the day of an important race or ride if you are used to consuming it before training. If you want to see if caffeine can boost your performance, I suggest starting slowly. If you don't drink caffeine at all, experiment with it away from training first. Once you know your body is okay with it in general then test it out by having a half a cup of coffee about an hour before a short (I'm thinking 3 miles) run. I would do this several times, testing out different amounts of caffeine before trying it race morning. On longer training runs you could also start trying some gels or chews that have caffeine in them right before the time in the workout when you would usually begin to feel tired and see if they give you that extra push.

If you don't get any benefit from the caffeine before or during workouts and for some reason you still want to cash in on this idea, try it for recovery. In a study on cyclists mentioned in Runner's World a few years ago, "Researchers found that having a drink with caffeine rebuilds glycogen stores 66 percent more than a carb-only drink."

If you still don't find any benefit, it's okay to quit, caffeine is bad for you anyway. ;)

Okay, now this is funny. I had to take a break from writing this post, because life and when I went to Trader Joe's, I saw this in the parking lot in front of Starbucks:

For those that don't know, SRAM is a cycling company
What do you think about caffeine's effects on athletic performance?

Do you drink coffee (or other caffeinated beverage) before you workout or train?

What about supplements or workout "fuel" with caffeine during your run or ride?


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