Caffeine, primarily in the form of coffee, makes the world go around. Many of us can’t function properly without our morning cup of coffee- or two- as a “pick me up” to get the day started on the right foot.
However, if you’re a runner, you may be wondering how your coffee habit (or any type of caffeine habit) affects your workouts. The general consensus is that caffeine is safe, even beneficial, when used in the right doses. However, not everyone agrees. Today, we will dive into how caffeine can affect your running workouts and beyond.
How Caffeine Affects the Body
As you may already be aware, caffeine is a stimulant. What exactly does this mean? Let’s review the basic physiological effects it can have on the body, whether it’s from coffee, tea, energy bars or drink, etc.
- Increased alertness and focus
- Energy boost
- Improved sense of well-being
- Increased body temperature
- Increased blood flow to extremities
- Positive mood
- Decreased blood flow to the digestive system
- High urine output (caffeine is a diuretic)
Essentially, many of the effects of caffeine are similar to what the body’s sympathetic system produces with the help of the naturally occurring hormone epinephrine. The sympathetic system is part of our “fight or flight” functions. It is vital for being able to perform optimally as an athlete or complete a workout- like running outside or on a treadmill– efficiently.
The Potential Benefits
Caffeine can be a simple way to boost many of the physiological benefits you are looking for before a workout. Plus, some forms like coffee and tea come with additional benefits, such as being rich in antioxidants.
Primarily, caffeine has been shown to increase the level of fatty acids in your blood- allowing you to use these compounds for energy instead of your glycogen stores (aka sugar). This can translate to less of an energy crash and more power to push through your workout.
Plus, most athletes report a lower level of perceived exertion when using fatty acids for energy during their workouts. Additionally, caffeine gets your heart right up and blood circulating efficiently. This can reduce muscle soreness (if you are recovering from past training) and more strength or power for your workouts.
These potential benefits are most valid for specific athletic events, including running, cross country skiing, and swimming.
The Potential Drawbacks
Overall, there are few reasons that caffeine shouldn’t be a part of your daily routine or even workout plan. Yet, just like anything we consume, too much of a good thing can have its drawbacks- particularly for anyone pregnant or suffering from heart disease (especially if you have high blood pressure).
Additionally, too much caffeine can lead to symptoms of dizziness, anxiety, jitters, heart palpitations, and an inability to sleep. Of course, these types of signs can put a significant damper on your ability to workout and recover effectively.
To reduce your risk of experiencing the adverse effects of caffeine, try to consume earlier in the day. Also, be aware of what your current caffeine tolerance is and avoid significantly increasing your dosage suddenly.
Finally, pay close attention to your body and make any adjustments to your caffeine intake if you are experiencing any negative side effects that your habit might be causing. Simply being mindful of your caffeine intake can make drinking coffee and tea a valuable part of your day instead of sabotaging your workouts and overall health.
Caffeine and Running
Whether you’re training for a marathon or simply want to get in a good daily workout on your treadmill, caffeine does not have to be off the table. Caffeine in the morning or before an activity has a few potential benefits if it feels right for you.
Ultimately, it’s about finding the right balance between what works best for your body and your workouts. In general, avoid loading up on too much caffeine later in the day to prevent its accumulated effects that can negatively impact your sleep and recovery cycle. Caffeine and running can complement each other well with the proper dosage and attention to what your body thrives on.