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Benefits of Caffeine with Endurance Sports

Can caffeine improve your running performance? It seems so.

I was listening to the recent Fuel podcast on Endurance Planet and the information on caffeine caught my attention. It discussed the results of a study by David Costill Ph.D. (physiologist) concerning the affects of consuming caffeine prior to endurance exercise. (This is old news but new to me.)

David Costill’s Findings

  • 22% of energy from free fatty acids when no coffee (caffeine) is consumed before endurance exercise
  • 40% of energy from free fatty acids when coffee (caffeine) is consumed before endurance exercise
  • Consuming coffee (caffeine) 1 hour before heavy exercise delayed the time-till-exhaustion by 19%
  • Consuming coffee (caffeine) 2 hours before heavy exercise delayed the time-till-exhaustion by 7%
  • Amount of coffee (caffeine) consumed : 4-5 mg caffeine / kg body weight (basic recommendation was 2 cups of  black unsweetened coffee)
  • Over-dosage does not increase benefits and may be detrimental
  • Highly trained athletes will get less of a benefit than a less trained athletes

So what does all of this information mean? Drinking ~2 cups of coffee 1-2 hours before an endurance event may help delay running out of gas during your race.

So is this the end of the story? Nope!

Terry Graham’s Findings

There is a study by Terry Graham Ph.D. that had a bit of a different take on things as noted in this WebMD article.

“What caffeine likely does is stimulate the brain and nervous system to do things differently,” he tells WebMD. “That may include signaling you to ignore fatigue or recruit extra units of muscle for intense athletic performance. Caffeine may even have a direct effect on muscles themselves, causing them to produce a stronger contraction. But what’s amazing about it is that unlike some performance-enhancing manipulation some athletes do that are specific for strength or sprinting or endurance, studies show that caffeine positively enhances all of these things.”

The good news is that both studies note a performance-aid with caffeine.

The Pre-Race Cleanse Factor

Many athletes appreciate the movement before the race. No need or desire to go into great detail but(t) I think you get the idea.

Coffee After Exercise?

How about coffee post exercise? Well don’t turn off that coffee pot just yet. There is a new study noted over at Runner’s World that caffeine aids in glycogen resynthesis.

So now it seems I should drink coffee before exercise and after exercise!?!

My Experience

I have always liked to use caffeine (Hammer Nutrition Espresso Hammer Gel) during my long training runs or races. I can’t say specifically that it enhanced my ability to train or race but I have always intuitively felt that it had a positive affect. During my Ironman events, drinking some cola brought alertness and focus back to me more than a few times during the run. Also in a recent 50 mile trail run, cola got me out of the dead-man-shuffle. Was it the caffeine or calories that made the difference? I am not sure, possibly both. I do feel the caffeine helped with the increased alertness.

I have never been much of a coffee drinker but I think I will give the pre-race/training joe a try and see if I notice any positive or negative affects.

When looking at the coffee article on Wikipedia I noticed that rubusta coffee has 40-50% more caffeine than arabica. Also lighter roasts have more caffeine as well.

I have a feeling we haven’t heard the last of the research concerning caffeine and endurance sports.

We are all experiments of one so what works for someone else may not work for you. Practice in training before race day and enjoy the journey!

Have you had noticed any benefits ingesting a form of caffeine before, during, or after a training session or endurance race? Any detrimental affects?

Happy Training!

About the author

David Hanenburg David Hanenburg is the passionate dirt-lovin' creator of Endurance Buzz and has been playing in the endurance sports world since 2000 after knockin' the dust off of his Trek 950 hardtail thanks to a friend asking to go ride some local dirt. In 2007 he ran his first ultra on the trails and fell in love with the sport and its people. For more information on David's endurance sports journey, check out the About page.

2 Responses to “Benefits of Caffeine with Endurance Sports”

  1. on 01 Oct 2008 at 12:58 pm Porta-pot bob

    I can’t believe the scientists didn’t uncover the most important and tangible reason to drink coffee prior to exercise…..BM’s.

  2. on 01 Oct 2008 at 3:26 pm David Hanenburg

    The Senate has just approved 10 million to confirm your analysis.

    Just make sure those BM’s don’t happen at mile 2 in a race.