I am a booze enthusiast. It’s a pleasant drink that allows me to be creative in substitutions and alterations. I enjoy the taste, feelings, and social atmosphere which generally accompany alcohol in my life. I am not, however, dependant on it. I frequently go a week or more without drinking and feel just as comfortable in social situations without a drink in my hand. In fact, it is not irregular for me to go to the bar with friends and order an appetizer while they drink. While alcohol is a thoroughly enjoyable part of my life, it is not an especially important one.
There is a drink, however, without which I could not function: coffee. Last summer my fiancé and I bought a espresso machine for our anniversary present. Since then, I’ve been running it pretty much non-stop. The knowledge that in a matter of mere minutes I could have a delicious cappuccino in the comfort of my home has motivated me to leave bed many a mornings to prepare for a run.
On one of these caffeinated runs, I noticed something that has changed the way I train. It was a subtle difference, but I observed that when I ran in the morning, which would typically happen about 30 minutes after drinking coffee, I was able to finish that last half mile with far more gusto than if I ran in the afternoon. Unsure whether it was simply a matter waking up refreshed vs. having gone through half the day, I decided to do some research.
General conclusion: yes, it is helpful.
The caffeine found in coffee is helpful to runners in several ways:
Low pain still gain: Caffeine changes how you perceive exertion. It thus helps significantly on long run, which explains why over 75% of Olympic endurance athletes utilize caffeine.
Torching fat: it is not known exactly how caffeine improves fat utilization, however research clearly shows that it does. Improved fat utilization, in turn, provides more energy for the body and reduces its use of glycogen.
Power through: Basically, caffeine helps you work harder. In a seven subject study, researches tested in impact of caffeine consumption of short-term performance and found that caffeine alone improved both the maximal cycling power and maximal voluntary contractions. When combined with proper hydration and fuel, it also increased maximal leg force.
How much you need: those new to exercising with caffeine should stick with low doses at first. Every body will respond differently so slowly increasing intake is the safest way to go. Runners World recommends beginning with a 25 mg gel. So, since I weigh about 105, I should consume around 150 mg of caffeine. Recent studies have shown that the positive impact of caffeine consumption maxes out at around 250 mg, so it is not recommended that anyone exceed that.
Some warnings: consistently training with caffeine can lead to several complications. This article does as excellent job laying them out. The author recommends saving caffeine for race days, but in my non-professional opinion there are many options between the extremes of using caffiene every time you train and only using it on race days. Additionally, he is looking at much higher concentrations of caffeine than you would get from a cup of coffee or shot of espresso. I personally like to fuel my long runs with coffee and go on my short runs uncaffeinated.
Additionally, a combination of caffeine and high levels of exertion can lead to light headedness. That happened to me once when I did not eat some simple carbs before a long run. To avoid this, make sure that you slowly increase the amount of caffeine you consume, as mentioned earlier, and practice proper nutrition.
So, if you’re interested in adding some extra energy to your run, consider slowly introducing caffeine into your training plan.