Caffeine is used by athletes all over the world for its performance boosting power. It is so effective that the World Anti Doping Agency have limited the amount athletes can ingest during competition. So when should you reach for a cuppa and what are the benefits?
Caffeine fights fatigue
Feeling invincible after drinking a strong coffee is no coincidence, both mentally and physically. Exercise physiologist Matthew Ganio and his team discovered that caffeine can increase performance by up to 3 per cent, which is pretty big when it comes to margins. As The Atlantic discovered, this could mean shaving off a whole 60 seconds for a 40-minute 10K runner.
There are a number of reasons for this performance improvement. As well as a development in fatigue resistance and increased muscle power, caffeine reduces what an individual perceives as exertion. All of these factors can help you to shoot for the moon and push further than your usual limits.
A cup or two will do
One cup of strong coffee, or around 200-300mg of caffeine, will help to boost your athletic performance. If you're running a long distance race, top this up on the road with a caffeine gel or two. Some athletes ingest up to three times this number, but we wouldn't advise taking on too much. Excessive use of caffeine can actually have adverse affects on your performance and even impact your heart health.
Timing is key
Before your run: The effects of caffeine stay in your system long after ingesting it, although taking caffeine 30-60 minutes before your run will have even greater effects on your performance. Just leave enough time for a toilet break beforehand and add milk sparingly to avoid an upset stomach.
After your run: As tempting as it is to have a comforting cup of coffee after you've finished a hard session, some studies show that it's best to leave it for the morning, as coffee can effect the hormones released into your system.
During exercise your cortisol levels rise to deal with the exertion you are putting your body under, essentially generating energy to face this 'trauma'. Post-run coffee can prolong the effects of cortisol when we stop exercising, and extended levels of cortisol can lower immunity and even encourage fat storage.
'Levels of cortisol after caffeine consumption are similar to those experienced during an acute stress,' says Precision Nutrition. To lower your cortisol levels after intense or long bouts of exercise stick to water or herbal tea while you relax and unwind.
Get better results on race day
You can alo build up a tolerance to caffeine, which may explain how that one coffee a day has now crept up to three. Limiting your intake before ingesting caffeine on race day can make a huge difference. Cut down your coffee habit one to two weeks before stepping on that start line, and ride high on that caffeine wave come race day.
Train like a pro with our nutrition tips for runners