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Can Caffeine Fuel Your Workout?

It's the legal, performance enhancing drug of choice for many athletes, and readily available at your local coffee shop.

I just got back from a biking vacation in California where I spent long days riding past vineyards, through farmland, and up never-ending hills. Our group was out on the roads for hours at a time, and at rest stops our support van gave us the opportunity to replenish with energy bars, fruit, and....Coke? I nearly choked on my water at the thought. But some riders eagerly grabbed the carbonated soda, saying the combination of sugar and caffeine made it a great choice for refueling.

I have a love/hate relationship with caffeine. I spent years hooked on coffee, to the point that I was quite sure I was addicted. In my efforts to get my habit under control, I gradually shifted to decaf. But then I read about the advantages of a morning cup of coffee for runners. According to this article in the New York Times, the beneficial effects of caffeine on athletic performance have been widely documented. So, I began drinking a cup of the high-test on race mornings, as a way to get an extra kick. I have to say, it worked great. I felt more alert and less fatigued. The trick was finding the sweet spot, getting the jolt without the jitters.

It seems I'm not the only one who has discovered the caffeine trick. Energy gels such as Gu are now available with caffeine added. Some, like the Clif Shot Double Espresso, pack 100 mg of the stuff, as much as a standard cup of coffee. But still, Coke?

Actually, from a caffeine standpoint, soda might be a good choice for many people. It packs less of a wallop than coffee, and as long as the bubbles are tolerated, it rarely leads to stomach issues. Personally, I'd favor a latte anytime, but then again, I tend to be a traditionalist when it comes to my caffeinated beverages. I may be only person in the world who's never tried Red Bull.

For those looking to add a some caffeine to their daily routine, check out this Active.com article, which lists the caffeine level of some of the more popular sources. But as this Mayo Clinic article notes, too much caffeine can cause health problems, particularly for people on certain medications, so proceed with caution. As always, when in doubt, ask your doctor.

My personal take is that if you don't already consume caffeine regularly, don't start using it just to fuel your workouts. It might end up making you jittery and cause stomach issues on race day. But, if you know you tolerate caffeine well, an extra shot of espresso before an athletic event might give you the boost you need. Just be sure to save that chocolate-glazed doughnut until afterwards.  

Lok-Kwan April 28, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Caffeine does induce a sense of wellbeing and enhance performance temporarily but it acts neurologically and has no nutrients. It may also have a diuretic effect. A regular dose of good quality cordyceps is a much better approach because the herb has been well-studied. It is completely safe and strongly boosts immunity and endurance.
Carrie Porter April 28, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Anyone else have any suggestions?
Sue April 29, 2012 at 01:53 PM
I drink element caffeinated water before workouts. I get a moderate amount of caffeine but most importantly I get my needed water intake. I'm a green tea advocate and it also has theanine in it.

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