For some people, caffeine is just a morning pick-me-up, for other people it is one of the ways to get and an extra boost of energy during the running or endurance training. However, everyone experiences different effects of caffeine.
Some people drink coffee before a run and don’t have any issues. Other people may experience the opposite effect in the form of gut issues or heartburn. Everyone has individual caffeine tolerance.
For instance, if I consume too much caffeine, I get really jittery, nervous, and panicking as if I’m going to have a heart attack. On the other hand, if drinking coffee is your morning ritual and you’ve built a good caffeine tolerance, then most likely you can enjoy a good cup of coffee before a run.
Let’s have a closer look at types of caffeine, pros and cons of caffeine, and how it can affect your running performance.
How Does Caffeine Impact Your Performance as a Runner?
Pros of Caffeinated Running Fuels
- On a long race, when you have brain fog and your brain kinda wanders off, caffeine can improve your focus, increase alertness, and enhance mood.
- It also boosts pain tolerance and reduces your perception of effort.
- Caffeine reduces reaction time and improves neuromuscular coordination also known as “motor control” or “muscle memory”.
- Caffeine may help you increase speed.
- You should also be aware of the positive effects of caffeine when running in the heat. For instance, one research shows that cyclists who consumed caffeinated sports drink performed 15-23% in hot weather than those cyclists who consumed a placebo, carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink. Therefore, caffeinated fuel can help you improve your running performance in the summer heat.
Cons of Caffeinated Running Fuels
If not consumed in moderation, caffeinated fuel can wreak havoc on your run.
These are the main signs you’ve consumed more caffeine than you can tolerate:
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Heart palpitation
- Upset stomach
In simple words, caffeine overdose it’s when: “OMG I can’t calm down!”
That’s why you should be careful and avoid experimenting with gels and drinks that contain a large amount of caffeine on the day of an important race.
- Caffeine can perk up the brain but it can also make you feel like garbage and make you even addictive.
- It can alter your sleep, so if you’re particularly sensitive, limit consumption. And everyone should avoid it before sleep because sleep is the best form of recovery. No coffee after two o’clock in the afternoon, cause it takes approximately 5-6 hours for your body to eliminate it.
Best Time to Drink Coffee
Caffeine level pick in your system is 60-90 min after consumption.
So, if you are searching for a little boost, you can have coffee 45-60 minutes before a workout, so that it kicks in right when you get started.
Having caffeine in your fuel pack will also give you that boost to let you to the second half of your race which is another reason to begin fueling 45 to 60 minutes into your run for anything lasting over 90 minutes.
What Are the Different Sources of Caffeine?
Nowadays, you can consume caffeine not only from tea or coffee, but it is also available and easily accessible in absolutely different forms.
Just a few examples of common caffeine sources:
- Coffee/ decaffeinated coffee
- Energy drinks
- Chocolate-flavored ice-cream
- Headache and PMS medication
Snacks and drinks designed to boost the endurance and long-distance race performance:
- Pre-workout powders
- Sports drinks
- Energy bars
- Energy gels
- Energy chews and beans
My Favorite Running Fuels
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Should you Take Gels and Other Fuels Containing Caffeine?
I’m not for or against caffeinated gels and other fuel. If you’re searching for some ways to get a pick-me-up during the long run, a gel with caffeine may help you. However, like any other product, you should consume it with moderation.
Also, it is a very individual thing, you should try it yourself to see whether this type of energy snacks works for you. And most importantly, you should not rely a lot on caffeine-based gels, beans, energy drinks, etc for a pick-me-up.
Your running performance also depends on other factors, such as training consistency, types of running workouts you utilize, diet, and your current health status. Caffeine is not a magic pill and you cannot replace regular training and healthy nutrition with it.
How Much Caffeine Do You Need to Notice Any Improvements?
All the energy-boosting products have different levels of caffeine and may help you get a quick boost of energy or negatively affect your running performance.
Make sure to check the label before consuming it. In general, caffeinated running energy snack contains between 25-100mg per serving. If you don’t have caffeine tolerance, you should be careful with caffeine intake, otherwise, you may face unwanted GI issues.
If it’s your first time trying caffeinated endurance fuel, start with a conservative 25mg dose and see how your body responds to it. It is more than enough to notice improvements or to understand that caffeinated energy gel or bar is not the best option for you.
- If you’re new to running, you should be careful with caffeine, mixing coffee and running can cause indigestion issues.
- The latest research shows that a moderate dose of caffeine can improve your running performance. Therefore, consume caffeine in moderation.
- If you want to have some coffee before the race, wake up earlier, so that your body has time to clean it out and you won’t lose time queueing in the porta-potty lines.