Caffeine and the Cyclist

GFNY Coach Christian talks about caffeine in this week’s Training Guide.

Cycling and coffee go together hand-in-hand: a pre-ride espresso or a mid-ride coffee stop are almost religious for some cyclists. Caffeine is also a proven ergogenic aid, with dozens, if not hundreds of studies showing it’s benefits. It’s no surprise, then, that caffeine is extremely popular among endurance athletes.

Still, though, misunderstandings and myths exist about caffeine. Today we’re going to dig into the basics of caffeine, talk about it’s benefits, and debunk a few myths.

Caffeine: Overwhelmingly Proven as Beneficial

Caffeine is one of the most proven benefits to performance there is, perhaps the most proven. So many studies have shown benefits of caffeine for athletes that aren’t going to take the time to link to any in this section.

The basics are that caffeine has been shown to have a noticeable impact on performance in many different forms of exercise, including cycling.

While myths around huge quantities of caffeine exist, research shows even moderate doses (the equivalent of 2-3 cups of coffee) have performance benefits.

This means a daily routine of coffee drinking in the morning can have a benefit to your workouts, especially if you train in the morning.

Does Coffee Dehydrate?

One of the downsides of caffeine has been that it’s been credited as a diuretic, and therefore has the potential to dehydrate athletes.

However, recent evidence indicates these worries are probably overblown. This study concluded that there was “no evidence of dehydration with moderate daily coffee intake,” in subjects drinking 3-6 cups of coffee per day.

What About Caffeine During Exercise?

For short events, it’s enough to take in caffeine before the event. However, during longer events, the benefits of pre-race caffeine probably peak early on, fading later in the event.

However, it’s proven (as in this study) that taking caffeine during exercise can provide a boost to performance.

For long events like GFNY, taking caffeine midway through or perhaps in the last ⅓ of the event can be beneficial. Consider using gels or other nutrition products that use caffeine for a nice late-race boost.

Do I need to detox from caffeine to get the best effect?

Some athletes believe that habitual coffee drinking will deaden the effects of caffeine, and that they should stop using caffeine before a race, only to load up on race-day.

This is probably not true, as shown in the linked study. Athletes can benefit from caffeine even if they use it every day.

A word of caution on sleep

Caffeine can impact your sleep in high enough quantities or ingested late in the day.

For that reason, despite the benefits of caffeine, we don’t recommend high doses before afternoon workouts. Athletes who train late in the day should drink coffee as normal in the morning, and consider a small dose of caffeine in the afternoon if they find it doesn’t impact their sleep.

Final Practical Notes

Caffeine is a proven ergogenic aid, and there’s very few downsides to using it both as part of your daily routine and on race day.

We recommend moderate caffeine consumption (usually via coffee) before competition, with further moderate intake during the race (via caffeinated energy gels).

If you are a habitual coffee drinker, a race day routine that mimics your typical morning routine and then adds in caffeine during competition is probably best.

If you don’t habitually use caffeine, be sure to experiment with it in training to find a dose your body is comfortable with.