Pip Taylor: What you need to know about caffeine
July 28, 2011 11:37 pm |
Professional Triathlete Pip Taylor’s series on competition nutrition for 5150 racing. Pip is the contributing editor for Triathlete Magazine’s FUEL section and you can read more about her on her at www.piptaylor.com
Thinking about using caffeine to enhance race day performance?: What you need to know – how much, when, why and the possible risks
Caffeine is pretty widely acknowledged as a performance enhancer for endurance athletes – giving you that feeling of extra energy and enhanced ability as well as increasing alertness and awareness which can also aid with technical skill execution. However before you caffeinate up before your next race, there are a couple of important facts to keep in mind:
Caffeine is most definitely not for everyone. Some people will respond positively (ie improved athletic performance), others will not respond at all (no performance enhancement) and for others consuming caffeine will actually be detrimental (ie the worst thing you could take both performance and health wise). Effects are individual and because caffeine is a drug, consumption should not be taken lightly. As any regular coffee drinker will attest to, caffeine is addictive and has system wide effects.
The most likely explanation for the performance enhancing effects of caffeine is that is acts directly on the central nervous system – reducing your sensitivity to pain. So rather than it actually increasing your capacity, it just enables you to push yourself further and harder than you would otherwise.
Conventional thought is that regular use of caffeine means that you will build up a tolerance, that is, to produce the same level of stimulation, you would have to consume ever increasing doses. However taking large amounts of caffeine is not recommended from either an athletic performance perspective and certainly not from a health perspective. Additionally recent studies on athletes have shown that performance enhancement effects from caffeine are not dampened with regular use, meaning that there was no difference in regular caffeine users and abstainers in their response to caffeine intake before a race or time trail test. Which is good news for everyone that feels they can not get through their day without their regular cup. Still it might be advantageous, even from a psychological standpoint to save your specific intake for key workouts and race day – that extra boost feeling may be all you need.
The amount of caffeine needed to produce a performance enhancing effect is small: as little as 0.5 – 1.5 mg/pound body weight (for a 155 pound athlete that equates to about 70-210 mg), although most studies support an amount of 2-4mg/pound as being most beneficial. The idea is to consume as little as possible while still reaping the benefits. More is not better when it comes to caffeine and not only will the performance enhancing benefits level off after a certain amount, the risks of adverse effects also go up exponentially. These include increased risk of gastro intestinal distress, jitters and altered vision, increased heart rate, anxiety and altered sleep (obviously a post-race issue). There have even been deaths directly linked to extremely high caffeine intakes. So err on the side of caution and take the less is more approach. It also goes without saying that anything you eat or drink on race day should be extensively trialed in training.
If you do ingest caffeine on race day, remember that it takes about 45 minutes to reach peak concentration and hence maximal effect. This will last 3-4 hours before slowly tapering off (effects can last up to 6 hours). From a performance perspective it does not matter whether you take this in a single dose pre-race or whether it is spread out before and during the race itself. For a 5150 race perhaps it might be easiest to think about taking your caffeine before the start – perhaps if you have a caffeinated gel as part of your pre-race fuel as the beneficial effects will last the entire event.
While coffee is the most common form of caffeine intake world wide, it may not be the best when it comes to endurance performance. Coffee does contain caffeine and you most certainly get the energizing feeling of wakefulness and increased alertness. However research suggests that there are other chemical compounds in coffee that may actually act against the ergogenic (performance enhancing) effects of the caffeine content. Plus the other downside of coffee is that you never can be sure exactly how much caffeine you are consuming – amounts vary according to the type of bean, the method of extraction, the barista and multiple other factors. There are plenty of caffeinated sports gels and drinks that provide a known dosage and these can also be easily incorporated into your race fuel nutrition plans.