MORE IS NOT ALWAYS BETTER
Getting Faster with Caffeine: Five Tips for Endurance Athletes
In our society, we tend to think more is better. For example, if miles or yards are good for you, then if we can accrue more, our race will go better. Indeed, I have athletes that use the ubiquitous TrainingPeaks.com Performance Management Chart in this way. The higher the CTL, the better the race will go (but will it?).
Others think the same is true when it comes to supplements like caffeine. Indeed, it’s been shown that caffeine delays muscle fatigue, reduces the perception of pain, makes you feel you are going faster, and keeps you more alert. With all that being said, given the demands of endurance sports, shouldn’t we take as much caffeine as we can handle?
As a coach of short course and long course endurance athletes, I try to stay with empirically validated protocols where possible. I fully realize that there is always room, and a strong need, to individualize. And that is where the thought that more is better keeps running into roadblocks. I continue to learn over time that sometimes more is NOT better. When you think of the downsides of caffeine, like how its diuretic effects can lead to dehydration or hyperthermia, or how it is associated with migraines. Or when you consume too much too soon, it can make you too jittery, anxious and shitty (for real!), etc. These side effects are not ways to score your big days!
Just as I learned more is not better as a coach (and athlete), I am learning the same in my role as Chief Brand Developer at SlayRx. The more I push to put loads of the good stuff in our products, Srikanth, our Chief of Research and Development, has held firm to the notion that we only need products with optimum levels of ingredients to be effective. In the case of adding caffeine to our products, he has been careful to make sure we are in line with the research and best practice of caffeine supplementation on athletic or even, outdoor work, performance. I want to review some of the bigger concerns that have arisen in my study of caffeine and not get too stuck in the weeds. Here are my FIVE basic guidelines.
TAPER? The caffeine taper concept works well actually. Most of us drink too much caffeine too frequently. As a result it can negatively impact the ideal caffeine performance effects on a race day. The more you drink daily the less sensitive you become to the effects of caffeine. It’s best for you to taper off daily consumption at least 4-5 days out of a race but probably even further out. The cutoff point seems to be one cup of good joe a day. Any more and you are hurting your potential caffeine performance boost.
TIMING OF INITIAL DOSE The impact of caffeine is felt anywhere from 15-75 minutes after digestion. This variance may be a result of the of the method of ingestion (see #5 below). We designed our SparkPlug product with this in mind. Your diet may also play a part in your caffeine sensitivity. An empty stomach obviously is quicker to process the stuff than a full belly from the night or morning before a race or event. Some triathletes want caffeine boosting their output during the swim, while others want to keep their heart rate down in the water. The latter group may want the initial caffeine to hit after the swim is ending and could time the initial dose appropriately. Figure out how long you want before the caffeine hits your system by using the concept of #TestDontGuess
RE-DOSING The quicker you experience the impact of caffeine, the sooner it may seem to lose its effect. Some think that once the initial buzz is gone, the caffeine impact is gone. That is wrong. You still have a half life of roughly about 5 hours for caffeine so stacking it up heightens the potential for problems. Longer events will need to keep that factored in for re-dosing. I can not say it loud enough, but you need to learn your body’s typical response to your consistent dosage of caffeine so you can adjust accordingly. For example, when I Kona qualified in Maryland in 2015, I was taking 100mg per hour on the bike and run and losing some every hour due to half lives of each dose. #TestDontGuess
DOSAGE Research has shown, in general, the safest and most effective dose for athletic performance is around 200mg. In other words, that dose should lower the vulnerability to bad things happening and increase the chance of performance enhancement. I have read research and practical suggestions that say you should consume up to 5-6x in mg per kg for maximum impact, but let’s be realistic. The longer the event the more ridiculous that would be. For example, that research says I should be consuming at the top end somewhere around 550mg of caffeine per dose! Back to Sri’s input, he would say the least amount necessary would be the ideal amount for you. Start with around 200mg and #TestDontGuess. Time the ingestion to the impact and when it starts to wear off, try to re-dose along reduced lines, always tracking the impact and adjusting dosage and re-dosage according to results. Like electrolyte replacement via SlayRx Hydrate or fueling with SlayRx Diesel, tracking should be on point!
PURITY Generally, the more pure the caffeine is (think powdered caffeine vs. caffeine in a gel or chew) the quicker it gets in your system. As noted above, caffeine powder or some caffeine gums are the quickest ways to get a positive effect. We designed our SparkPlug product with this in mind. However, make sure when buying any fuels like SlayRx Diesel Plus with Caffeine or supplements that, not only do you understand the caffeine per serving and when/how it will impact your performance positively, you know the quality is assured and how the purity of how its ingested impacts its effects.
Admittedly, this is a bit of a general blog, but these tips are very important and in line with the current research. Done right, your caffeine consumption generally and prior to (and during) a race or event could have a legal, positive performance enhancing impact (estimates vary greatly depending on the study, the discipline, and the distance)! If you have questions about optimum caffeine use or how much caffeine is in SlayRx, feel free to drop us a line at Info@slayrx.com. Thanks for reading and best wishes for a great race or event!