"Everybody should believe in something. I believe I'll have another coffee." ~Author Unknown
First of all, I want to send my best wishes and vibes to my buddies running the Tupelo Marathon tomorrow morning. Never made that one. Any run that has a Flaming Skull as their logo, and "Trample the weak, hurdle the dead" as their motto, just hints that you might want to sidestep around this one. Usually this race is run in terrible humidity and a high morning temperature, but it looks like we can't use that excuse this years fellas. Fifty-four degrees!! Holy Crow! I must say, this morning's long run in 60% humidity was great. If it would just stay like this instead of that doggone freezing crap that's looming on the hoirizon! I complain about hot weather, but I absolutely, beyond any concievable doubt, HATE cold weather!!
The other day, a runner told me she couldn't use any gel that had caffeine in it because it made her jittery. I thought to myself "C'mon, it only has 25-50 mg of caffeine while a cup of joe has 100-125". The bigger question I asked myself was if it only has the equivalent of a half a cup of coffee, what good could it possibly do? This subject has been a pendulum that has been swinging back and forth for many years, but now there actually seems to be some good studies that sheds light on caffeine's effects. I'm not going to go into the deep pharmacology of how caffeine works, but generally, it's a stimulant because it actually blocks a calming chemical and it raises your heart rate, blood pressure and your brain activity, but seeing that you're running a marathon in the first place, we won't talk about the level of that brain activity.
Now, I'm going to skip all the dry results of the studies, but time and time again, those that ingested 1-2 cups of coffee before exercise had better bike time trials than those that didn't. It's much easier to test cyclists than runners, I guess, 'cause that's what most studies are done on. Anyway, if you figure that a cup of coffee typically has about 100-125 mg of caffeine, you figure that one of those little Powergels or Gu's aren't going to do a whole heck of lot (@25mg a packet - some have 50mg). But, some studies seem to indicate that caffeine helps speed the rate at which ingested carbohydrates (100mg in Powergel) are absorbed during an endurance event. That's a good thing. The faster you can get these carbos to change into blood glucose, the faster they can be zipped to your muscles as fuel and spare what little stored energy we have. So, in this case, the caffeine acts as a kick in the butt to get the energy fires burning. But, it seems the more direct effect is that it releases some amino acids (fat energy) into the blood stream that the muscles can use most redily and also spare some of that precious, limited glycogen (stored carbohydrates). So, what this means is that a cup of coffee before you run may get those little fat molecules cruising in your bloodstream and get you down the road a piece before you dip deep into your muscle energy supplies. Then, the small amount of caffeine in those gels can give you a reboot to your blood and again delay the glycogen debt that's always on the edge of a marathoner or ultramarathoner. Once the stored glycogen starts to push the "E" on your fuel guage, suddenly, words like "wall" and "bonk" start to creep into your mind, as do a few other four letter words. But, I have to admit, I still don't think those gels will make you "jittery".
You can develop a caffeine dependence if you drink a whole pot of coffee each day at work, but it seems that you don't build a tolerance to how effective the caffeine will help your running, so drink up. If you are that 10 cup-a-day drinker, then whatever you do, DON'T give up the habit cold turkey the week before a marathon. You're going to be bouncing off the walls enough without going through withdrawal on top of it. Another misconception about caffeine is that it makes you head for the bushes more during your run. Well, it's true, it will make you urinate, but only to the same level that water does. So, stay hydrated, find those bushes, and get back running.
So, all of this says that it is safe for you to intake caffeine before and during an endurance event ( I don't think a carbonated Coke is too good an idea), and it may actually help your performance. In case some of you speedballs are wondering about testing positive for caffeine in a post-race drug test, at the present time, caffeine is NOT banned by the International Olympic Committee, and in order to test positive for the NCAA, you would have to ingest the equivalent of 7-8 cups of coffee AT ONCE - in other words, you really have to be trying super extra hard to use caffeine to give you that extra buzz. At this time, I don't think many Mom & Pop 5k's are testing for caffeine. As with EVERYTHING, try it first in training. If you don't drink coffee, don't dare say on race morning "I'll bet a cup of Java will calm me down!!".
OK guys that's about it from near-earth orbit this week. I hope you all have a safe Labor Day, and take advantage of this cooler weather. For my readers up in the Northeast, thank goodness Earl exited Stage Right and only got you a little wet. Running in rain is most of the time a blast...running in a Hurricane is stupid! I'm a runner - I know what some of you would have done!! Oh, yes you would...I'm Al, I'm one of you! I'll see you on the roads - AL
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