Caffeine is widely used – and especially loved by endurance athletes for its ability to stimulate the central nervous system and reduce perceptions of fatigue and pain. It also – an any athlete, parent, office worker or student knows – helps with mental acuity and wakefulness. But there are a few questions about caffeine worth addressing:

Caffeine or coffee?
Coffee and caffeine both work. The important thing to note is that the caffeine content of coffee varies widely – by bean, by barista, by coffee shop – research shows a shot of coffee can range from 30-150mg! in contrast other caffeinated sources are regulated and consistent. This is where some personal preference and judgement comes in – some people care more about the tradition and smell and routine of having their coffee – this familiarity can be a key part of race prep as much as the caffeine. 

Should I abstain race week?
If you are a regular coffee drinker I would say no – indeed this could be a bad plan going into a race if you are dealing with some withdrawal effects (headaches, low mood, lethargy…..). And in fact abstinence from caffeine before a race does not in fact improve benefits of caffeine – may not have the same noticeable buzz as you would get for first time caffeine use or following a period of abstinence – but you will still get the endurance/performance benefits. 

My advice would be if you are a regular coffee drinker – just maintain your regular habits. If you aren’t, but plan on using caffein on race day, then make sure that’s well practiced.

How much should I have?
Individual dose and use are key and as widely used as it is, caffeine isn’t for everyone. Some don’t respond at all to the stimulant, other respond negatively with increased anxiety, jitters and adverse stomach reactions which can be detrimental to performance. For those that do enjoy and respond to the boost though, the benefits may come from less than you think. 3-6mg/kg body weight seems to be the sweet spot for most, with research showing that amounts as little as 1-3mg have a positive effect on endurance performance, and nil benefit to consuming more than 6mg/kg. However trace amounts – like you might get in that dark fizzy caffeinated drink in the later stages of some run courses – have an effect when fatigue is high. This is also due to oral receptors for caffeine, that  quickly stimulate the nervous system to boost energy and alertness. 

Pre race if your caffeine comes in the form of coffee, or from gels or tablets – aim for 45 mins before you want it to kick in. If you prefer a mouth dissolving strip, then you can have this 5-10 mins prior (oral absorption is fast and efficient). Keep in mind if you are someone who suffers from pre-race nerves, then you might want to save the caffeine for either immediately prior, or once you are on the bike or part way through the race – that way you wont be overstimulated when nerves are high, but can still benefit from the pain and effort reducing effects throughout the majority of the race when you are really needing to dig deep.  

Common sources of caffeine: 
Espresso shot: 30-150mg 

Gels: 25-100mg as marked

Revvies Energy Strips: 40 or 100mg as marked

Red Bull: 80mg/can

Coke: 32 mg/can

Diet Coke: 42mg/can 

NoDoz tablets: 100 or 200mg as marked