Coffee and Running: What I Wish I Knew Before

Coffee and Running: What I Wish I Knew Before

Do you drink coffee before heading out to run? I often do, so I decided I better read up on the effects of Coffee and Running, caffeine and what they are doing for my workouts. To my surprise, I found that a cup of starbucks can actually promote better performance in athletes. This is great news to those of us who can’t conquer our craving for java. So don’t give up the coffee just yet, read on to see ways in which it could benefit you.

Use Among Olympic Athletes

recent study determined the prevalence of caffeine use by athletes after its removal from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list.  They collected urine samples from 20,686 athletes over the course of 4 years.  Almost ¾ of the participants showed levels of caffeine over the limit of detection (LOD).  Of these 15,000 people, there was no considerable difference in gender.  There was, however, an increase in caffeine levels for those who were over the age of 30.  In their conclusion they state, “3 out of 4 athletes had consumed caffeine before or during sports competition.

Nevertheless, only a small proportion of these competitors (0.6%) had a urine caffeine concentration higher than 12 µg·mL(-1). Endurance sports were the disciplines showing the highest urine caffeine excretion after competition.”So what does all of this mean for you and me (the average run-of-the-mill runners)?  If it’s good for Olympic athletes, it’s probably good for us!  There are several areas in which coffee can prepare you for your run.  Here are a few:

coffee and running olympic Athletes

Run Longer/Think Faster

A study done in 2008 showed that cyclists who were given an energy bar with caffeine (equal to a cup of coffee) before riding, rode further and thought faster according to cognitive tests.  It was concluded that runners in endurance events could benefit from this quick decision-making as well.

coffee and running track

Increased Sprint Speed

Australian scientists researched the effects of coffee and running and caffeine on speed.  They gave athletes 300mg of caffeine one hour before they ran five sets of 6 x 20-meter sprints.  They found that runners who took the caffeine were faster than those who did not.  They concluded that the stimulant enhances reaction time and running speed.

coffee and running speed

Recover Quicker

Many runners use bread and bananas to replace used up glycogen stores and replenish electrolytes, but you may want to consider drinking coffee post-run.  Research was done on cyclists to see whether caffeine could rebuild glycogen stores.  They found that the cyclists who drank caffeinated beverages rebuilt their glycogen stores 66 percent more than those with carb-only drinks.

coffee and running recovery

Fat Utilization

For marathon runners, perhaps the most important benefit of caffeine is that it enhances your body’s use of fat as a fuel source, thereby conserving glycogen. In marathon racing, the conservation of glycogen is critical to performance over the last 10km of the race.  It’s not exactly clear how caffeine increases fat utilization. However, most researchers agree that caffeine increases the number of fatty acids in the blood stream, which increases the speed at which your body can covert fat to usable energy.

Getting Your Caffeine

coffee and running caffiene

While coffee is the most common source of caffeine, many runners can find coffee to be hard on the stomach. For example, coffee gives some people heartburn if they drink it before a run. So, you may need to experiment with what works for you. Here are some good sources of caffeine other than coffee:Red Bull (1 can) – 80 MGCaffeine pills – varies Clif shot blocks (3 bloks) – 50 MG Fast Lane Tea – 100 MG

Isn’t Coffee a Diuretic?

Now, before you go drinking a half a pot of coffee before your next run, consider how your body will handle the brew.  Some people find that coffee causes them to urinate more, which is good cause for concern with runners.  The last thing you want is to be five miles from your home, with no port-a-potty in site, and a full bladder. 

We’ve all been there and it’s not fun.  Coffee is a diuretic – meaning it encourages you to expel more urine than the amount of water contained in the actual drink.  For healthy individuals, there is not much to worry about, considering you stay at levels under 250mg.  Any higher than that, you may be running for the bushes.  Keep in mind that a Grande cup of coffee at Starbucks contains 330mg of caffeine.

Do you (or have you) drank coffee before a run?  Did it seem to help or hinder your performance? What are your thoughts on coffee and running? Please let me know by leaving a comment below.


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  1. DonnieDellinger