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    Joe & Performance - The do's and don'ts of coffee & exercise

    May 31, 2017 3 min read

    Joe & Performance - The do's and don'ts of coffee & exercise

    by Wendy Winn, PT, OCS, NY Custom Performance 

    Joe and Performance

    The most humbling running experience of my life occurred because of too much caffeine during a half marathon in my great home state of Massachusetts. I showed up from New York City the morning of the race, sleekly sporting a full outfit of compression gear, (overly) bold and ready to take on my small hometown race. There were only a few elite runners in the group, and I was feeling very confident in my abilities. I chugged a large coffee (Dunkin' Donuts!) and and hit the pavement.  


    Feeling energized, I turned the corner, and before me was the steepest hill I had ever seen! I only train on flat roads at home, and I had, of course, forgotten to check the elevation map. As I struggled up a hill at the 6th mile, I spied a group of volunteers handing out gels. I gratefully grabbed two and gobbled them up, hoping to restore the glycogen stores that were zapped from the many (many!) hills. A few minutes later my heart started racing, my stomach began to churn, and I was shaking like a leaf! I looked down and discovered that my trusty vanilla gels now contained caffeine. As if the hills weren't enough, I struggled through the last seven miles, barely able to cross the finish line. Caffeine has always been my friend, but that day I learned that it had to be used in moderation!

    What’s to love?

    Long touted as the legal drug for sports performance, the positive effects of caffeine on running performance are well-documented. Caffeine has been proven to:

    • Decrease the perceived effort for endurance running. Coffee can literally make running seem easier!
    • Increase the desire to run more often. Studies have shown that mice voluntarily  run more often on a treadmill…errr wheel when given caffeine versus sports drinks or a placebo!
    • Heighten neurological readiness for sport. Your brain and body will be prepped to go!
    • Increase heart and respiratory rate, increasing blood flow to muscles. No brainer!
    • Mobilization of fat stores. After glycogen (blood sugar) is used up, caffeine helps mobilize fat stores for use as energy!

    What’s not to love?

    When dealing with caffeine, the following side effects must be considered: indigestion, headaches, anxiety, agitation, restlessness, insomnia, nausea, frequent urination and increased heart and respiratory rate.

    How much should be used?

    In studies examining performance, anywhere from 200- 1000 mg have proven to positively affect running performance for endurance running. The jury is still out for sprinters.

    Beware: while caffeine seems like a leading edge, be cautious when competing at the national level! The IOC limit is approximately 1,000 mg (or 12-15 mcg caffeine per liter of urine.)

    See how your coffee brands rank! For every 16 oz:

    Dunkin Donuts: 250 mg

    Peets: 267 mg

    Caribou: 305 mg

    Starbucks: 330 mg

    Seattles Best: 330 mg

    Killer Coffee: 500+ mg (whoa!)

    What about energy drinks or soda?

    I think it goes without saying that we cannot in our good conscience recommend supplements with chemical basis. But, if you’re dying to know:

    Red Bull (12 oz): 111 mg

    Coca-Cola (12 oz): 34 mg 5 hour energy (2 oz): 200 mg


    We love the concept and the product(!), but it contains sugar alcohols, which for some people increases flatulence, bloating, and abdominal discomfort. 50 mg per piece (2 pieces in a pack)

    Looking for more? www.caffeineinformer.com offers a search tool!

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