Should You Drink Coffee Before a Run?

  |   Fitness, Health, Healthy Life Style, Running, Well-being, Wellness   |   No comment

My 90-day experience with coffee and running

So, what’s the big deal about coffee? It’s just plant juice mixed with hot water (and sometimes milk), right? Just a bunch of basic atoms and molecules found in plants, combined around. Hate to break it to you, but so are we. All of us are a bunch of atoms simply grouped in particular arrangements that lead to specific results. What may seem as aimless and rambling individual particles can come together in specific configurations and bring order to chaos.
Too philosophical for a post that promises to help understand the effects of coffee? I agree.

Coming back from my digression, I consider myself a light runner. On a typical day, I average six miles, six days a week. I’m (almost) never caffeine-free before my runs and usually consume tea or coffee an hour before.

So here’s what I learned post 90 days of running after consuming coffee.

The Effects of Caffeine Are Almost Immediate

Caffeine is one of the most widely researched areas of sports performance, probably because many athletes rely on it far more than just its potential performance-enhancing benefits.

Research has recorded close to 5 per cent improvement in the performance for endurance athletes.
Consistently throughout the first 90 days, I noticed the effects of caffeine start to kick in within the first 10 minutes.

Many research studies have proved that consuming caffeine before a sport helps subjects go faster and longer. But, it works best when timed right. A study in 2014 shows that the best time to take caffeine for a performance boost is an hour before the event begins.

It’s Possible to Have Too Much

Research suggests about three to six milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight is all you need to notice the benefits. A higher amount of caffeine won’t necessarily improve performance, and you run the risk of developing side effects such as- nausea, anxiety and heart palpitations.

Pros and Cons of Drinking Coffee

As is with everything in life, there are advantages and disadvantage to drinking coffee as well. Let us briefly go through some of them.

The pros:

  1. Caffeine improves the mental alertness and state of mind. Just as our morning cup of coffee helps us get mentally ready for the day, studies suggest that caffeine boosts your mental alertness, mood and the desire to run harder. No surprise there. But get this, caffeine reduces the runner’s perception of effort, which helps running feel more tranquil. It gets better. Caffeine increases the number of endorphin molecules in the brain, the same hormones that lead to a runner’s high.
  2. Increases the body’s ability to burn fat. This is a great piece of news for everyone, especially for marathon runners. Caffeine enhances your body’s use of fat as a fuel source, thereby limiting the burning of glycogens.
    The jury is still out there as to how caffeine increases fat utilization; however, most researchers agree that caffeine increases the concentration of fatty acids in the bloodstream which directly increases the speed at which body can convert fat into usable energy. This is a good sign, particularly if you are running to lose weight (as most of us are).
  3. Increases speed and power in running long distances. Caffeine enhances the reaction time as well as the neuromuscular coordination in runners. The faster your brain can send signals to your muscles to contract and relax for movement, the faster you will be. Bottom line, you run faster with less effort.
  4. Heat tolerance improves. This is not something you hear every day. A study conducted in 2007 by Department of Kinesiology, University of Georgia, suggests that athletes who ingested caffeine completed up to 23 per cent more work in hot weather conditions compared to cyclists who used water or other traditional sports beverage.

The cons: Like any workout supplement, there are potential downsides to caffeine if taken without moderation.

  1. Increased urination. Caffeine is a diuretic and increases the frequency to urinate.
  2. Gastrointestinal Issues. You may experience some GI issues, in particular if you add milk or other ingredients. Some athletes have said to experience specific laxative effects after having coffee.
  3. Jitters. Some people who experience sensitivity to caffeine may develop headaches or ‘jitters’ after consuming coffee. Either way, if you are one of these people, then either condition would make runs much less unsafe.

Bottom Line

Although many studies investigate the benefits of caffeine on running performance, the scope of most of them is small. Moreover, not all research has been consistent in their findings. Caffeine may boost performance in most athletes or runners, but not all. That being said, my experience with coffee has been positive so far (90 days and counting).

Bottom line? Be the judge of your own body. The effects of caffeine last for hours, so you don’t have to try to drink it immediately before the run. To find the best dosage and timings for you, I suggest you start at the lowest amount of coffee you generally would prefer before a run and see how your body feels and responds during the run.

Experimenting is key to finding your sweet spot. This plant juice may prove beneficial to your runs after all.

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