I’m no stranger to caffeine. While I’m a 1-2 cup of deliciously strong coffee per day kinda person, I do really look forward and enjoy those cups…they are not out of habit or default, I like them and early morning-work days are so much more tolerable with them. Which reminds, I think it’s just about cold-brew season around here! Yum! (my couldn’t-be-easier cold-brew recipe)
What’s more, I’ve researched and experimented with caffeine extensively on the bike and while running/AT skiing. As crazy as it seems, caffeine has been shown to significantly benefit both power and endurance, physically and mentally.
This week, we’ve got an easy chocolate covered espresso bean recipe, and my thoughts and recommendations on this all-natural pick-me-up.
Recipe of the Week: Homemade Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans
- 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips or a bar, chopped (70%+ cocoa)
- 1 Tbsp maple or local/raw honey
- 30-60 espresso beans or coffee beans (roasted)
- raw cocoa, raw coconut flakes, or pb2
- Melt the chocolate on a double boiler over medium high heat on the stove top OR melt in microwave, stirring every 30 minutes.
- Allow to cool 1-2 minutes, add maple or honey.
- Stir in coffee beans.
- Sprinkle raw cocoa, pb2 or coconut flakes over a 8×8 piece wax or parchment paper.
- Using a fork, remove coffee beans individually or in groups, and place on coated paper. Sprinkle cocoa, pb2 or coconut flakes over beans to coat. Allow to cool. Store in fridge until use.
Training Nutrition: These are great right before, or during a ride (although they may melt). Each bean likely contains about 6 mg caffeine, so 10-20 can definitely give you a coffee-cup boost.
Of course, you can also just buy chocolate-covered-espresso beans. These (right) from Trader Joe’s will provide ~21 gm carbs and a jolt of
caffeine on the bike.
There’s a long history of athletics and caffeine…many times it’s been used just out of necessity – to warm up a skier, to wake up a competitor after a jeg-lagged-induced flight, etc. But what if caffeine goes beyond the perceived wake up? What if it stimulates our cells on up? Could this mean better endurance, stamina, and power?
The Background & My Own Experimentation
Like many people I know, and clients with whom I work, I’m a 12-ounce-per-day coffee drinker, and I like very strong coffee. If the average coffee has 100 mg caffeine per 8 ounces, I’d be willing to bet mine has at least 200-250 milligrams. You know the kind. I’ve known for years that this is a bit of a problem for me when I want to ride or run early in the mornings (with 4 kids, early in the mornings is often all I’ve got…and yes, I need my coffee). I’ve always been faced with the dilemma of either not drinking coffee before I leave (see consequences of this below) or drinking coffee 15-30 minutes before leaving and riding with a sour-stomach for at least the first 30-60 minutes due to coffee, but not the caffeine necessarily.
As someone whose body expects 250-350 milligrams of caffeine each morning, I’ve set up sort of a “baseline” for my body, both mentally and physically. When I don’t get my coffee and its caffeine, I will get a slight headache and will also feel tired and less-than-sharp. On the bike, this simply feels like I’m draggin’ (whether or not I actually am) and that the effort is harder than it should be given my training.
Those are the issues. And, it’s for these reasons that I usually try to get clients who drink several cups of coffee, or caffeine throughout the entire day, to reign it in a bit. It’s not a health issue, in my opinion. It’s a logistics issue – can you get yourself back to baseline without wrecking your stomach before a race or early training?
Despite these issues, I’ve also used caffeine sparingly on very challenging rides, when anticipating a wall. But I’ve used it either in a gel or a drink, and generally at smaller concentrations than most supplements. I’ve used it in the last hour of a 100-mile mountain bike race (12,000 feet elevation gain) and when I hit a big “wall” during a 2-day Kokepelli Trail adventure. In both cases, it pepped me up, and helped me finish strong (or at least stronger than I would have otherwise). The gels I use only have 25 mg caffeine and go down easy, so these haven’t been an issue for me in terms of stomach problems or caffeine overload. A Red Bull on the other hand (used on Kokeplli), has a few disadvantages for me: 1) I hate the taste. 2) They don’t settle well in my stomach while riding, much like coffee. 3) An 8-12 ounce liquid caffeine supplement is an awful lot of weight to carry on a 90 mile ride through the desert compared to espresso beans or a tiny pill.
During the last couple years, I unashamedly used caffeine pills as a supplement (sorry Darryl!). And now, I’ll be experimenting with more chocolate covered espresso beans.
It’s generally accepted that caffeine works well as a mental booster. And, recently studies have shown that caffeine works well as a physical booster, too: It helps female volleyball players hit the ball harder and jump higher, rowers go farther, and cyclists go faster in a 20K time trial.
A large body of research shows caffeine helps in “pretty much every kind of endurance exercise,” giving a performance advantage of 1.5 percent to 5 percent, says Mark Glaister, an exercise physiologist at St. Mary’s University in Twickenham, U.K., and an author of the recent cycling study.
“Of all the legal supplements an athlete could take, it has the biggest effect on performance,” he says. Although the mechanism isn’t completely understood, many believe that caffeine increases the frequency or size of neural transmissions and suppresses pain. According to Glaister, it’s not clear that it speeds very short sprints (he’s studying this further), but it can help in any burst of activity that lasts longer than about a minute.
The dose? Athletes see a benefit with a dose of between 3 to 6 mg per kg of body weight, which means that I need 150-300 mg caffeine for a benefit (similar to my regular coffee intake), and a 165-pound athlete needs 225-450 mg caffeine for results. As for timing, it takes 30 to 60 minutes for caffeine levels to peak in the body, but you can start to feel some effects as soon as 15 minutes or so. In case you’re wondering, caffeine is no longer on the banned list of substances at the Olympic level (or else I’d never recommend it!), and it’s concentration is restricted, but not banned, by the NCAA.
Personally, I’d love to see research on performance when the opposite occurs, when a caffeine addicted athlete fails to meet his or her baseline.
My Results with Caffeine on Short and Long Rides/Runs
Hopefully, once I’m back on the bike, I’ll have a bit more experimentation to share with this natural little “pills,” covered in chocolate. What experiences have you had with riding on caffeine, whether a supplement, coffee, other drinks or espresso beans?
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