Caffeine in Endurance Performance

Hey kid, wanna get jacked?

Take a look at your off-the-shelf race gel or blended nutrition+hydration mix and chances are it’s got caffeine in it.
And why not? Caffeine has been shown time and time again to improve sports performance whether it be strength output or time to exhaustion. If you want to run harder for longer it seems pretty evident that caffeine should be part of your race strategy.

“Caffeine can be used effectively as an ergogenic aid when taken in moderate doses, such as during sports when a small increase in endurance performance can lead to significant differences in placements as athletes are often separated by small margins.” – The Effect of Acute Caffeine Ingestion on Endurance Performance: A Systematic Review and Meta‚ÄĎAnalysis – Aug 2018

It appears on average that caffeine is good for about 2-3% increase in performance and when it comes to many hours of activity that can equate to significant measurable differences in finishing times.

If a little of something is good for you then surely a lot is better?
Nope. Very Nope.
The down side to caffeine is that is a diuretic and can have a laxative effect. I’ve heard horror stories of athletes heavily dosing NoDoze only to have spent most of their Ultra-trail Australia in the wilderness ‘communing with nature’. There’s a tipping point and you need to know yours.

How much caffeine?
This varies greatly person to person and is mainly tied to your daily relationship with the stimulant. If the smell of a decent brew has you twitching and awake all night, perhaps caffeine isn’t a wise idea on race day. If however you’re the sort of person that has to inject espresso into a main vein to get out of bed in the morning, chances are you’ll be fine with a little bit of caffeine throughout your race and potentially a bit more toward the end of the run.

Enter the Black Doctor
Every Ultra Distance event worth it’s weight in salt has Coke on at least some of the aid-stations. At Ultra-trail Australia you can safely assume you’ll have access to a cup of Coke at Queen Victoria Hospital aid-station – BYO CUP!

What goes up, must come down.
Caffeine like all stimulants have the effect of lifting you up then beating you down. If you’re going to party, aim to get the hangover after you’ve finished. Adding or increasing dosage of caffeine is most effective in the final third or quarter of your ultra, allowing for the corresponding trough some time following the end of your race.