I love coffee and have managed to cut back from 4 cups per day to just 1 cup every morning over the last 6 months. If I’m going on a long ride that begins in the morning, is it still okay to drink my coffee before I go?
Thanks for a caffeine question! First, great job on cutting back on coffee (I say this from a sports nutrition perspective more than a wellness one). The issue with being a coffee-dependent athlete is that you’ve trained your body to require a certain amount of caffeine in order to simply get to baseline. Six months ago, you weren’t at baseline until you had 4 cups. So, if you could only get in 1 before a ride, you started in a deficit as far as cell stimulation – this mostly effects your mental status, but it has a significant effect. Being below your baseline can cause an increased sense of effort (when you just “feel” like you’re draggin’), headaches, and fatigue. So now, for optimal performance, I do recommend that you consume your baseline caffeine before a long rides – 1 cup of medium strength coffee has about 80-120 mg caffeine (depending on your definition of medium strength). If it doesn’t cause stomach or GI issues for you, you can go ahead and get this through coffee before a ride – but, on a personal level, you may find that coffee and running equals an emergency potty break, and I’m not talking about the kind you can drip-dry. If this is the case for you, you may have to find alternative caffeine sources (you can try cold coffee, 5 hour energy, dark-brewed tea, or gels w/ 2x caffeine (15 minutes before starting). Or, wean yourself to not being dependent on it for your baseline.
There are studies that show benefit to consuming caffeine. However, the benefit comes from amounts over baseline or in those who don’t routinely ingest it.
Of note, I do also use caffeine personally and with clients as “during training” nutrition, on really long events, when I know I may hit a wall and need more of a boost. For example, it can help if you know you have a long climb or push towards the end of a ride, and you may need both physical and mental stimulation. If you want to use it, know that it takes ~15 minutes to hit your blood stream. And, if you still have a long way to go, you’ll likely have to continue to consume it in regular ~30-45 minute intervals in order to not “crash.”
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