Caffeine To Boost Performance Part 1

If you don’t know me, let’s start here; I drink a lot of coffee. I love it hot or iced with a little bit of milk and some blackstrap molasses and sometimes a dash of condensed milk. Those of you who see me at work know my UNC Tar Heels travel mug is never far and while it sometimes has water or a smoothie in it, no matter the time of day, 9 out of 10 times it’s coffee.

IMG_5850Well, on Thursday I temporarily retired the travel mug. Yes, that’s right, I’ve been coffee-free for 4 days and will be (almost) coffee-free for another 2 weeks. Yes, you read that right, the 20-ounces-a-day coffee drinker has stopped drinking coffee. If you see me, RUN!

No, it’s not that bad and I have good reason to temporarily part with my favorite beverage.

A friend of mine told me a while back that he stops consuming caffeine about 2 weeks before a race and then has coffee and nutrition products with caffeine on race day. He’s not the first person to use caffeine as a performance boost and various studies show that caffeine can boost athletic performance and delay fatigue and reduce pain in long races.


Since my half Ironman is 2 weeks away, I decided to test out caffeine as a performance enhancer. Research varies on how long you want to be caffeine-free to get the maximum benefits. Some articles I read said 4 days, some said at least 8 days, so I’m going to experiment.

Here’s the first thing I learned: if you quit caffeine abruptly, you may go through withdrawal. While I did not get the headaches some people experience when quitting caffeine, I definitely got the fatigue. It probably wasn’t a good idea to go caffeine-free the same week that we decided to switch all of our workouts to the early morning (I’m talking in the pool at 6:05am), but I did it anyways and both Thursday and Friday afternoon I was completely useless.

IMG_4246That’s when I decided that going straight caffeine-free was not going to work. Lucky for me I had just received some Energems to review earlier in the week. I’ll be writing a post all about Energems soon, but basically Energems are like gigantic caffeinated M&Ms. Three of them equals a cup of coffee, so Thursday, once I hit if-I-don’t-have-coffee-I’m-gonna-pass-out mode I had 3 chocolate Energems (they come in chocolate, peanut butter and mint), then Friday and Saturday I had 2 and today I am officially caffeine-free, okay almost caffeine-free, because I’m still eating dark chocolate and I had 2 GU Roctanes today during my long run.

Since I have a “don’t try anything new on race day” policy, I’m not going to stay caffeine-free the next 2 weeks and then drink coffee on the day of my half Ironman, because I can see that going disastrously wrong. My plan is to test Energems the first half of this week, so I can give the product a fair review, then I have a 10-miler on Saturday where I’ll try drinking coffee pre-race and using GU Roctane during the race. Depending how that works I’ll might go caffeine-free again (with the occasional dark chocolate or Energem boost) until race day in Raleigh. [Note: Using caffeine to boost performance doesn’t mean you just ingest endless amounts of caffeine, for a 150lb person 225-600mg seems to be a healthy dose to boost performance and my plan for the half IM is 1.5 cup of coffee -150mg- and 3 GU Roctane’s -35mg each- for a total of 255mg of caffeine, so less than what an average person ingests when they buy a Starbucks Grande]

The things we do for a little bit of a performance boost.

Truth is, I’m not planning on winning any of my races. I am mostly curious to see the effects that certain foods have on the body. Our bodies, after all, are machines and food is our fuel and it is a super fun to experiment and see which fuel sources can help my body function better.

Besides coffee, here are some other foods that have helped boost our training. Note that we also use GU, BonkBreakers, SaltSticks, Honey Stinger, sports drink etc. to boost our performance, but for this post, I wanted to focus on natural foods that can boost performance:

I love my beet smoothies. They don’t look pretty, but they’re so yummy!

  • Beet – Research shows that beets increase exercise capacity by increasing time-to-exhaustion. The nitrates in beets increase the size of blood vessels to allow more oxygen flow. I used to hate beets, now I love them especially in smoothies or on sandwiches…oh and they’re good in salads too.
  • Blackstrap Molasses – A great source of iron, which can increase your energy levels. It’s also a great source of potassium, calcium and magnesium, all things athletes need. I put some in my coffee, oatmeal and sometimes smoothies.
  • Oatmeal – I’m going to have a whole post about the benefits of oatmeal coming up soon, but here’s the short version. Oatmeal is an amazing fuel source! A 1/2 cup of oatmeal has 32 grams of complex carbohydrates which digest slowly and provide sustained release of energy, which is perfect for endurance athletes.
  • Chocolate Milk – High protein, high carbohydrate, great rehydrator. Not a performance booster per se, but chocolate milk has been shown to boost recovery, which is a huge part of training. The better you recover, the better you can perform!

During my search I also found some info about eating pumpkin seeds to beat fatigue and brazil nuts to stimulate recovery, so I’ll be testing those out soon!

What kind of foods do you use to boost your workouts and race day performance? Share your favorite performance boosting foods and check back soon for an update on my caffeine experiment!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or nutritionist. Any information offered in this blog is personal and based on my own research and experiences and should not be used as a replacement for professional medical care and advice.
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