Let’s talk caffeine. For many of us a cup of coffee is a staple of our daily routine, but also as runners a bit of a potential minefield pre-exercise, yet alone mid-run.
Bad tummy whilst running? The not-so-cryptic ‘Code Brown’? We’ve all been there, or know someone who has, and generally it’s put down by the unfortunate sufferer to caffeine in the form of a pre-run cup of coffee.
So what are the options, and why is it worth trying different options?
There is much evidence that caffeine is a serious performance enhancer, helping maintain mental focus, reduce perception of effort and even improve muscle performance and recovery. Pick up almost any book on running nutrition, running endurance or performance and you’ll find caffeine mentioned as a helpful supplement, or even a super supplement capable or rocketing you to times and achievements beyond expectation.
Just Google ‘Coffee and Running’ (or some similar term) and you’ll return pages of both anecdotal and scientific advice, articles and discussion threads.
Caffeine is a staple for many runners, with pills, chewing gum, gels and dissolvable strips (amongst other sources) being widely used. There are claims that it can help everything from alertness and endurance to fat burn and muscle recovery (this latter more so for coffee and the anti-oxidant effects of polyphenols within…but that’s another story).
What do the experts say?
‘Caffeine can reduce the perception of effort, fatigue and pain associated with exercise…caffeine might also allow athletes to push harder during key training sessions, thereby enhancing training outcomes.’ (PEAK. The New Science of Athletic Performance That IS Revolutionizing Sports, Dr.Marc Bubbs. 2019)
‘Caffeine’s perk-up powers aren’t exactly a secret…(it’s) already one of the most widely used legal supplements among athletes… To (Samuele) Marcora, the most convincing explanation relates to caffeine’s ability to shut down receptors in the brain that detect the presence of adenosine, a “neuromodulator” molecule associated with mental fatigue. Warding off mental fatigue, in turn, keeps your sense of effort lower, allowing you to exert yourself harder and longer.’ (Endure, Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, by Alex Hutchinson. 2018)
‘…caffeine is remarkably effective in enhancing time to exhaustion when exercising for prolonged periods…’ (Tim Noaks, Lore of Running.2003)
When to use Caffeine
In terms of direct sport use, caffeine is generally best used both shortly before a run or race event (in the case of Revvies, they suggest an effect within 5 minutes of taking) which may help reduce perception of effort in the all important opening stages of the run. After that, it’s up to you, but given the potential benefits of the caffeine it’s worth having something to hand for when you start to feel the effort ramping up and the tiredness setting in. However, other studies suggest that consumed caffeine processed by the body in the stomach as part of another product can take up to 1 hour to reach peak levels in the blood, so that pre-race breakfast espresso might just be handy too.
When not to take caffeine?
One of the newly emerging areas of information behind running (and sport in general) performance is the importance of sleep, the value of full sleep cycles and with it the central role circadian rhythm plays in maintaining health, endurance and recovery.
As you can probably now guess, that means there is a time to not use caffeine! Depending on how sensitive you are to the stimulant the cut-off for grabbing that cup of coffee may well vary, but it is important to give bed time a wide berth to ensure you get the correct quota of good, healthy sleep.
If you enjoy a tea or coffee in the evening, perhaps try decaf or a fruit tea alternative and see if your sleep (many sports tracker/HR watches record this now) improves and if you begin to recover better.
It’s well worth a read of ‘The Circadian Code’ (Satchin Panda.2018) for a list of alternatives and potential pitfalls, but he does say this as a handy tip ‘Coffee can stay in your system as long as 10 hours. That’s why the conventional wisdom is to avoid coffee past noon.’
How can BADRAT help? Well, pleased you asked!
When we put together our partner scheme we wanted to focus on what would best benefit our members, and a core tenet of this was centred on nutrition, which covers both foods and supplements. We have (currently) 2 partners on board who have products designed to use whilst running or racing, so let’s run through who they are and what they offer.
Revvies are a product offered by Jacqui and John Nolan-Neylan. They are dissolvable strips in 40mg and 100mg concentrations in a mix of flavours, designed to use whilst on the hoof. Revvies were one of BADRATs first partners, and we even have our own BADRAT Revvies ambassadors too. With no liquid volume and as a refined source of caffeine they are kind on the stomach and don’t (in our experience!) have any of the side effects associated with caffeine and running. Ideal for both long and short runs and races as they do not contain carbs, just the caffeine hit! See the Revvies Range through this link.
Mountain Fuel, Darren and Rupert, came on board earlier this year as a partner and offer a range of products, one of which is their sports gel with caffeine. The benefit of this product is that it combines the benefits of the caffeine hit with the carb top-up that is required for long distance running and racing. In a range of flavours including cola, it’s a great shout for those of you who use gels already, though may be less helpful for shorter runs where you wouldn’t usually gel. Check out their range through here and see all the great things they have to support you on your runs.
How do I access these partner offers?
We can answer that! Join BADRAT runners as a member. Your membership gives access to a whole range of exciting partners who offer discounts on products, equipment and events, as well as regular runs with the awesome community of BADRAT members every week. What’s not to love?
*As ever, the above is general guidance and publicly available material. If you have concerns, a history of intolerance to caffeine or any of the above-mentioned supplements or products or have a history of a condition which may be adversely effected by aby of the above please consult a doctor or professional sports nutritionist before trying anything new that might put you at risk.