It wasn’t long ago caffeine appeared on the WADA banned substances list, which says something for its widely acknowledged performance enhancing capabilities.
Thankfully our favourite morning brew is now legal once again. Caffeine is now widely used among professional and amateur athletes in many sports but is most commonly consumed among endurance cyclists world over.
It's important to understand how to use this natural performance enhancer effectively in order to reap the benefits and avoid the pitfalls both in training and on event day at Struggle sportives.
How Caffeine Works
Our body’s primary response to caffeine happens in our central nervous system. Adenosine, present in the brain, is responsible for suppressing the central nervous system to help promote sleep. It does so by binding to certain sensory receptors. When caffeine is introduced to the body it binds to these receptors to inhibit the influence of Adenosine - thus keeping us alert.
Caffeine also acts on our endocrine (hormone) system. It stimulates our pituitary gland to secrete hormones that in turn causes the adrenal glands to produce more adrenalin. Adrenalin promotes our ‘fight or flight’ response which gives your entire body a burst of energy.
Benefits of Caffeine for Cyclists
Caffeine For Fatigue
The most commonly attributed benefit of caffeine for cyclists is that it lowers our perception of fatigue during endurance cycling.
A recent study showed while heart rate, lactate and glycogen levels were similar, athletes using caffeine were able to exercise for 20-30 minutes longer compared to athletes taking a placebo.
It’s safe to say caffeine can be highly beneficial for Struggle riders looking to increase their long-ride mileage in training and during the latter stages of the Struggle sportives when fatigue sets in.
Caffeine for Concentration
Another obvious benefit of caffeine for cyclists is the increased feeling of alertness. This is obviously important for concentration when riding in groups, around technical corners, through traffic and down descents.
Caffeine allows us to stay focused on the task in hand - especially 5 hours into a challenging sportive when there’s still plenty of technical descents like Trapping Hill on Struggle Dales.
Caffeine for Energy
Caffeine is also proven to increase the body’s energy availability by mobilising fatty acids. Caffeine stimulates our ability to break down fat for energy instead of glycogen (from carbs).
This means we’re dipping into our glycogen stores less. Then in the final stages of a Struggle sportive your glycogen stores aren’t as depleted and you’ve still got energy from stored carbohydrates ready to used when things are getting tough.
When to Use Caffeine
Caffeine can be used before and during cycling. Tobias Christensson, Head of Nutrition at Maurten, says peak caffeine concentration is generally achieved within 60 minutes. It’s important to consider taking in caffeine earlier than you think!
Time-trialists and criterium riders can benefit from caffeine throughout their events. However, too much caffeine can have a negative effect on the body, causing feelings of nauseous, anxiousness and gastro-intestinal disturbances. This is why endurance cyclists should pick and choose their moments to ingest caffeine.
The Maurten GEL 100 CAF 100 can be used to build up caffeine levels on its own or together with other caffeine sources, such as a cup of regular coffee, to achieve sufficient caffeine levels during cycling.
Tobias suggests drinking a coffee the morning of a Struggle sportive to help with alertness. Then using a Maurten GEL 100 CAF 100 at the last feed station to help suppress the perception of fatigue after the 85 miles of cycling already completed.
Caffeine dosage is subject to body weight. Science suggests an intake of 3 mg of caffeine per kilogram body mass.
However, Tobias says developing a nutritional strategy is complex. Everyone is different – and the caffeine absorption and metabolising rate varies between individuals.
Caffeine tolerance levels is another variable affecting dosage. Cyclists not used to caffeine may find they are more sensitive to it, while those used to caffeine may find they require a higher dosage to feel the effects.
The Maurten GEL 100 CAF 100 contains 100 mg of caffeine – that’s the equivalent of 1,5 espressos – or one cup of brewed coffee. That’s a lot compared to many of the traditional gels out there. Tobias suggests finding your caffeine tolerance in training, ahead of a Struggle sportive.
Training with Caffeine
Discovering the adverse effects of caffeine half way around a Struggle sportive could see you crossing the finish line in the broom wagon (and we try our best to keep our broom wagon empty). Training with caffeine is highly advised to help understand your tolerance levels.
Caffeine can also be used in training to aid our body’s ability to metabolise fat (as discussed above). It’s common for professional riders to head out on a fasted ride after just an espresso in the morning.
However, fasted* riding has become a contentious issue of late for all riders, but especially for women as experts now suggest women should not perform fasted rides (but that’s a discussion for another day). We wouldn’t recommend fasted riding for us everyday folk with busy lives.
Find out more and order now at www.maurten.com
*The purpose of fasted riding is purely for metabolic adaptation and should therefore only be performed at steady state, with no other hidden training agenda. You should always have some energy in your pocket for later in the ride or if you need it. Proceed with caution, perform these rides infrequently and stop fasted riding if you’re starting to identify any symptoms of relative energy deficiency.