Drinking Caffeine Before Running – How Coffee Will Help You Run Faster
Even the best of the elite runners can easily be beaten without their daily cup of coffee or caffeine before running.
Some runners rely on drinking coffee before running to get them up and out the door, while others find caffeine to be the only stimulant protecting them from having Swingline tattooed across their forehead.
But should you drink coffee before you run? Or is it just a ploy by the coffee companies to sell more expensive lattes.
If you’re a caffeine addict, or even if you only enjoy the occasional cup of coffee, caffeine and athletic performance go hand in hand to help your running.
Yup, that morning cup o’joe can actually make you a better runner.
You don’t have to take my word for it though.
Recent studies show that more than two-thirds of Olympic athletes use caffeine to improve their running performance.
You can be quite sure that if Olympic athletes are using caffeine before they run, it works.
However, you don’t need to be an Olympic caliber runner to benefit from the strategic use of caffeine.
In this article, I am going to outline the specific benefits of using caffeine, what to watch out for, and give you some detailed guidelines for when to take caffeine before a race to perform your best.
when to take caffeine before race
caffeine running performance
caffeine and endurance running
caffeine and athletic performance
should i drink coffee before i run
Coffee Before a Run: Caffeine and Endurance Running
Caffeine is actually one of the most widely researched areas of sports performance, perhaps because so many runners rely on it for more than just its potential performance enhancing benefits.
In fact, Alex Hutchinson recommended taking caffeine pills before running as the number one legal performance enhancing product runners can take before a race.
So if you were wondering if coffee before running is bad, by now you probably know what we have found.
But if you are not convinced, here are the benefits of caffeine on running performance:
Mental alertness and improved state of mind
Just as your morning cup of coffee helps you get mentally ready to face the day, research shows that caffeine boosts your mental alertness, improves your mood, and boosts your desire to run hard.
Always a good sign as a runner:
This is a great benefit for those mornings you’re facing a tough speed workout and you just don’t want to get out the door, or if you’re an evening runner who needs a mental boost after a long day at work.
Even better, for longer events, such as the marathon and half marathon.
If you are following a marathon training schedule, you will know that there are many long weeks of intense and monotonous training that can really test our dedication to the race.
But, get this:
Caffeine reduces a runner’s perception of effort, which makes running fast feel easier.
It get’s better:
Caffeine increases the concentration of endorphins in the brain.
Yup, those same exact hormones that produce a runner’s high.
Increases your body’s ability to burn fat running
For marathon runners, perhaps the most important benefit of caffeine is that it enhances your body’s use of fat as a fuel source, thereby conserving glycogen.
In marathon racing, the conservation of glycogen is critical to performance over the last 10km of the race, or as we like to call it, the second half of the race!
It’s not exactly clear how caffeine increases fat utilization.
Most researchers agree that caffeine increases the number of fatty acids in the blood stream, which increases the speed at which your body can covert fat to usable energy.
If you are trying run to lose weight (aren’t we all), this is good news.
Increases speed in running long distances and improves your power
Caffeine also enhances reaction time and improves neuromuscular coordination (how fast your brain can send a signal to your muscles to contract and relax).
While this is great for 200 meter sprinters, it can also be beneficial to long distance runners.
Improved neuromuscular coordination allows your leg muscles to fire faster and more forcefully, which means you’ll be more efficient.
What’s the bottom line?
You can run faster with less effort.
Caffeine and heat tolerance running
Another recent study looked at the effect of consuming a caffeinated sports drink on performance in a warm environment.
Cyclists who ingested caffeine completed 15 to 23 percent more work in hot weather than cyclists who used either water or a traditional sports beverage.
Moreover, the cyclists who used caffeine had a lower level of perceived exertion.
If you are running in the summer heat, this will help make it through those hot and humid summer runs.
Helps you get a faster 5k time
While so far we’ve looked at how caffeine can potentially improve varying aspects of running performance, it’s also important to examine if these improvements translate into actual results on race day.
Luckily, a group of researchers studied this exact question.
Using a 5k race as a test run, the researchers found that runners who used caffeine prior to their 5k race improved by 1.0 to 1.1 percent (this means a 20-minute 5k runner would run 10-13 seconds faster just by using caffeine).
While this isn’t a huge improvement, it does prove that the science translates to real-life running situations.
How Does Caffeine Affect Running Recovery?
While research has clearly shown that caffeine can boost performance, what about using caffeine after a run (whether it be an ingredient in your favorite post run beverage or the result of your cup of coffee on the way to work)?
Caffeine has been shown to enhance recovery when used in conjunction with carbohydrates.
Just in case you needed more reasons to add caffeine to your routine:
We talked about this in detail in our separate article about the 9 reasons runners should take caffeine.
Researchers have found that having a drink with caffeine rebuilds glycogen stores 66 percent more than a drink with just carbohydrates.