For the Record: June 2016 – Is Caffeine Before Racing a Good Idea?

NO – Coach Nick Seidel
Caffeine is not recommended before triathlon participation. Research supports that caffeine does improve performance on many types of activities. Adequate rest and a solid nutritional plan will sustain optimal performance better than caffeine for a less reliable effect.

Referring to an article by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, in the 2005 IRONMAN World Championship, 53% of the athletes interviewed did not know what proper dose of caffeine or method would enhance performance. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the optimal dose of caffeine is 3-6 mg/kg for enhanced performance. The best effect is when caffeine is consumed in an anhydrous state opposed to drinking coffee.

Research also disproves the common conception that caffeine causes dehydration. Conversely, it is not supported that caffeine is helpful. Hydration is key to performance and safety. As coaches, we recommend that hydration be a focus in the days prior to an event with recommended water and electrolyte replacements.

“I have to have my coffee in the morning or I can’t function.” This statement has two issues: First, the athlete is either not getting enough rest or has inadequate nutrition. Second, the athlete has a mental block and clearing this dependency from their head would make them an all-around stronger athlete.

It has been shown that moderate use of caffeine increases blood pressure/heart rate at rest and stress. Rest is where we make a lot of gains in triathlon. While drinking caffeine during rest periods, our heart and system are not getting rest. While racing, we already have increased blood pressure and heart rate. With caffeine, we are taxing our system even more and not being fully efficient, taking away from our overall performance.

Triathletes do not necessarily need to stop drinking caffeine. Athletes should have an increased awareness around what they put in their body and what effects on performance. Good rest, good nutrition, and good training with TriDot will be your best route optimal performance!

Nick Seidel has been involved in triathlon since 1999. Has competed in the college level and went to College Nationals twice, has been on Team USA twice (Long Course – 2002 Nice, France and 2014 Belfort, France), and won AG Long Course Nationals in 2000. His PR at the 140.6 distance is 10:41:52; his best 70.3 is 4:55:58. Nick has been coaching since 2000.


YES – B.J. Leeper

In the triathlon world, many nutritional supplements are marketed for their ability to improve performance. Caffeine, utilized specifically for performance gains in both training and racing has been widely discussed. However, what do we actually know?

First, we know that caffeine has the possibility to give a distinct performance advantage. Why else would caffeine have been placed on the prohibited substance list by Olympic officials up until 2004 (the NCAA still bans it in certain amounts)? Research shows that caffeine is an ergogenic aid that exhibits benefit in its ability to increase endurance performance, promote greater fat oxidation, prevent fatigue, and reduce perceived effort (1,2). A meta-analysis in 2004 was conducted showing an improvement in exercise test outcomes by 9.1-15.4% when caffeine supplementation was provided prior to the activity (1,3). 

Caffeine is the most commonly used stimulant in the world, evidenced by the line every morning at your local Starbucks. It has been reported that 3/4 of the world’s elite athletes utilize it.

Secondly, we know the timeframe in which caffeine typically has an effect on the human body. Upon consumption, caffeine can enter the bloodstream within 15-45 minutes and has an estimated half-life of between 2.5-7.5 hours (4). As a result, if you’re looking to supplement with caffeine, a recommended dose of 3-6mg/kg body mass 30-60 minutes before activity would be my best recommendation for improved performance. 

There has been conversation about the potential to “taper” caffeine usage prior to a race to increase the performance effect on someone who is a habitual caffeine user.  However, most of this evidence is only anecdotal and a recent double-blind study revealed no difference between those who withdrew from caffeine prior to their event versus those who did not (5). My advice, don’t stress over going cold-turkey off of coffee a week before an event. It’s probably not worth the headache (pun intended).

Lastly, if you’re utilizing caffeine for training or racing performance, you need to practice it. Everyone responds differently to caffeine and there are various forms of caffeine that you can consume (coffee, gels, capsules, etc.). Practice this in your training and race rehearsals, so there will be no guessing at how your body will respond on race day. And remember, caffeine is no miracle stimulant. Just because it can give you a boost in performance, does not mean that it can replace proper nutrition, hydration, training, equipment, etc.

REFERENCES

  1. Doherty, M. and Smith, P.M.  Effects of caffeine ingestion on exercise testing: A meta-analysis. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 14: 626-646, 2004.
  2. Doherty, M. and Smith, P.M. Effects of caffeine ingestion on rating of perceived exertion during and after exercise: A meta-analysis. Stand J Med Sci Sports 15: 69-78, 2005.
  3. Graham, T.E. and Spriet, L.L. Metabolic catecholamine, and exercise performance responses to various doses of caffeine. J Appl Physiol 78: 867-874, 1995.
  4. Kerksick, C. and Roberts, M. Supplements for Endurance Athletes. Strength & Cond J. Feb; 32(1):55-64, 2010.
  5. Irwin, C. et al. Caffeine withdrawal and high-intensity endurance cycling performance. J Sports Sci. Mar; 29(5):509-15, 2011.

B.J. Leeper earned a BA in Biology and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy. He is a Board Certified Orthopaedic Specialist, a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and a USA Triathlon Coach. B.J. has worked with age-group and elite level athletes in the world of rehabilitation and sports performance and has shifted his focus for the past 6 years to the physiological testing and training of triathletes, working with numerous amateur and professional triathletes nationwide.

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