Episode 43 - Is caffeine beneficial for Endurance Performance?

Is caffeine beneficial for Endurance Performance?

Caffeine is a well-established performance booster. Is it beneficial for endurance performance? Heck yes!

But more does not equal better when it comes to caffeine supplementation. It’s about finding the lowest dose to give the greatest effect, without the negative effects.

  • How is caffeine absorbed?
  • How does caffeine work?
  • What are the negative effects of too much caffeine?
  • Where else can you get caffeine from without needing to use tea and coffee?

Tune in to this latest episode of the podcast to find out!


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Episode Transcription

Episode 43 - Is caffeine beneficial for Endurance Performance?

Taryn Richardson  00:00
Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast, the show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian, and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy to digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it. 

Taryn Richardson  00:38
Inside the Triathlon Nutrition Academy, we dive deep into caffeine, how much you need to have exactly the best timing to consume it. And what to use because caffeine doesn't always, or have to, mean coffee.

Taryn Richardson  01:00
I'm not gonna lie, I love coffee, there's no point hiding it. I love the smell. I love the way it makes me feel. I call it productivity juice for that reason. But from a performance perspective, caffeine is a very well established performance booster. Probably the most research supplement in the world.

Taryn Richardson  01:20
There's studies dating back to the 70s, all the way to now exploring exactly how much we need and a range of different sporting modalities that it's good for. It's good for cycling, running, triathlon, resistance exercise, as in lifting weights in the gym, team sports. It is very well established that it's a performance booster. And for many, caffeine is a widely used, socially acceptable, stimulant.

Taryn Richardson  01:48
It was removed from the WADA anti-doping list back in 2004. It was used before then, but there were limits on how high your blood content could get. But interestingly, even though it's been removed from that list, we're not seeing huge doses of caffeine being consumed. Because when it comes to caffeine supplementation, more does not equal better.

Taryn Richardson  02:10
So how is caffeine actually absorbed? It's really quickly absorbed, and it can be seen in the bloodstream within like 5 to 15 minutes, which is pretty fast. But it peaks at around, sort of, 40 to 80 minutes, depending on what type of absorber you are. There's some slow absorbers and there's some fast absorbers when it comes to caffeine. And they think that's probably genetic. There's a CYP1A2 gene, where you may be a rapid or a slow metaboliser of caffeine, which probably explains a lot of the individual differences and individual variation when it comes to caffeine absorption and performance effects.

Taryn Richardson  02:50
So once caffeine peaks in your bloodstream, around 60 minutes (so anywhere between sort of 40 or even less), up to 80, that peak has maintained for around three to four hours. Even if you don't feel like caffeine is there, and in your system, that peak is still maintained for ages. You just don't feel that same initial rush that you get with that first caffeine consumption. And caffeine has a half-life of three to five hours. Now that means that if you had, say, 100mg of caffeine, five hours later, 50mg or half is still in your system. And you may not be able to feel that, but it's still there.

Taryn Richardson  03:35
So timing of caffeine consumption is really important because we don't want to have it's so close to sleep, that there's still a fair bit of caffeine kicking around in our bloodstream. So I quite like the rule of no caffeine after lunchtime, just to separate caffeine consumption, let a lot of it get broken down and excreted out before we're trying to wind down and go to bed.

Taryn Richardson  03:58
So how does caffeine work? It's definitely a stimulant which has physiological and psychological effects. Its mechanism of working is not fully understood, but because it crosses the blood-brain barrier, its main action is that stimulation of the central nervous system. That caffeine is transported to all body tissues and organs.

Taryn Richardson  04:21
So it has effects that we don't even kind of fully understand yet, but because of this central nervous system stimulation, one of the main effects that we see with endurance exercise, is that it actually lowers our perception of effort, so how hard exercise feels. It's also been shown to reduce pain, which can be useful if we're in a hurt hole. Caffeine can help us feel less pain, and it's widely established that it helps endurance performance. Think of caffeine as a chemical that keeps the on switch on and blocks the handbrake. And nobody likes a handbrake. When it comes to caffeine, more does not equal better - we don't see more performance or better performance with high doses of caffeine.

Taryn Richardson  05:09
The original research in this space was in very high dosing – 5 - 13+ mg per kilo. Now we're seeing research, try to understand what is the lowest possible dose, to give us the maximum effect. And we don't actually really know where that base is yet. But it's about finding the lowest dose for you, that gives you that performance-enhancing effect without the negative outcomes.

Taryn Richardson  05:36
So some of those negative things that I'm referring to might be an increased heart rate, over-arousal or overstimulation, getting the shakes with your fingers, you know, you've lost your fine motor skills, because you're over-caffeinated. Definitely sleep disturbances. Even if you feel like you can get to sleep, chances are your sleep quality is not that great. And you're more likely to wake up at weird hours of the morning too if you're over-caffeinated. And then a big one, which most people know and understand is gut upset. Caffeine is a very strong gut stimulator, it increases as peristalsis movement through the gut, that muscular movement that pushes things through faster.

Taryn Richardson  06:19
So most people, that are caffeine users, realise that it's what helps them go to the toilet or makes things happen faster.

Taryn Richardson  06:30
That's definitely not something you want to muck around with, without getting some individual advice for how much you need for you. And where to actually put it. Because the timing of caffeine is key. If we know how long it takes us to absorb it and have that peak level in the blood that becomes important, but not if that's going to make us feel overstimulated and anxious when we don't want to be. Like when we're about to toe the start line. If you're an anxious person, you may not want that stress and anxiety to be increased heading into one of your key events. But I'm going to show you exactly how much and when to have it and how to do it inside the Triathlon Nutrition Academy because it's not something you want to muck around with. And when I talk about caffeine, it doesn't have to be tea and coffee.

Taryn Richardson  07:18
Most people assume that to get caffeine, you need tea or coffee. But there are lots of products that are nice, neat little packages that give you a good controlled hit of caffeine. One of the core products I like to introduce people to is Revvies - they are a little wafer strip thing that you can kind of dissolve on your tongue. So good if you just want caffeine. If you don't want to have a gel or blocks or sports drink or something or a coffee to consume your caffeine, they're a nice little wafer that doesn't have much else in it. They're easy to carry. They're tiny, tiny little things. And one of them has a mint flavour which can be a nice palate cleanser if you're in a long course race or out doing a long run, and your mouth starts to get manky.

Taryn Richardson  08:05
I have a nice little discount code from Revvies that I can pass on to you. I’ll pop it in the show notes. But use 20TNA for Triathlon Nutrition Academy to get 20% off at the checkout, when you spend $20 or more. Revvies are pretty much available worldwide. You can get them from, you know, revviesenergy.com.au or .uk - have a look at what's available in your area.

Taryn Richardson  08:29
And I get no kickbacks for that. I just want to say that upfront. I will never be sponsored by a supplement company because I want you to know that if I'm suggesting you do something, or I'm recommending a product, it's because it's good. not because I'm getting paid to tell you that it's good. So I'll link that in the show notes for you can go and check them out and it's definitely an interesting product to try. In Australia, you can also get them in Chemist Warehouse, but online if you want to use that discount code.

Taryn Richardson  08:58
A couple of points I just wanted to highlight when it comes to caffeine is that caffeine is not a substitute for quality training and race experience. Caffeine is definitely one of the sprinkles that you put on the icing on your cake. You need to build that solid cake foundation with your nutrition first so that you can put those layers of advanced sports nutrition principles on your icing on top of that so that your sprinkles have something to stick to.

Taryn Richardson  09:27

There's no point throwing caffeine at you and expecting you to perform better if you haven't done the training and you haven't got your nutrition dialled in for what you need to be doing for you either. So I just wanted to put that in there - a little bit of a disclaimer - caffeine is not your fix or your saviour or a performance enhancer or performance booster if you haven't ticked those other boxes first. It's not something we cover in the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program until we get into Phase 2, where everyone's done a fair bit of work on what they're doing with their day to day nutrition - they've started to practice and perfect what they're doing in training and we're starting to layer on those more advanced sports nutrition principles.

Taryn Richardson  10:11
The other thing I wanted to say about caffeine supplementation is it shouldn't be used in younger athletes. A lot of the energy drinks and Redbull and Coke and stuff like that is marketed to the younger market, but I wouldn't be looking at using caffeine until you're well over 18.

Taryn Richardson  10:28
If you want to dive deeper into it, I'll show you exactly how much you need, when to include it (because that timing is really important) and then how to do it. It doesn't have to be tea and coffee. Doesn't have to be Revvie strips. It doesn't have to be gels. There's lots of ways to get caffeine in. And I'm going to show you how to do that when we open doors to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy next. So if you haven't got your name on the waitlist yet, make sure you jump over and do that now. Go to dietitianapproved.com/academy. I'll link it in the show notes.

Taryn Richardson  11:01
Because caffeine is not something you really want to muck around with yourself. Let me show you exactly what the evidence-based guidelines are and cut through all the noise and BS that's online. And then I take that one step further and show you practically how to actually do that in your training and racing. So there you have it - a nice tidy little neat summary of caffeine. If you're not using it yet, maybe consider looking at implementing it.

Taryn Richardson  11:28
And if you are using caffeine, then I challenge you to make sure you're getting the right amount and you're not overdoing it - because more does not equal better when it comes to caffeine.


Taryn Richardson  11:42
Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned. Email me at [email protected]. You could also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media at @dietitian.approved so I can give you a shout out too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smash it in the fourth leg - nutrition!

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