Health

Thursday 31 July 2014

Kick for home with a caffeine boost

Deirdre Hassett found herself drinking coffee while on her exercise bike. Photo: Getty Images.
Deirdre Hassett found herself drinking coffee while on her exercise bike. Photo: Getty Images.

It's funny how, when it comes to getting up early for work, it's hard to find motivation, but I can hop out of bed at the same time at the weekend with (relative) enthusiasm to go and run or cycle.

My weekend is strung together with many small pleasures, the first of which is coffee and breakfast. I am not sure when my coffee consumption changed from the odd wincing sugar-sweetened mouthful to a full-blown addiction, but the habit has gone from occasional indulgence to mandatory before any morning task – including running – can be started.

In a supreme example of time conservation I found myself last week drinking coffee while pedalling on my bike trainer before work. Don't try this at home, folks. Unless you have one of those spill-proof travel mugs.

Runners are notorious caffeine addicts: maybe it's our personality type – we are endorphin junkies, always looking for the next legal high. Luckily, there are benefits to a fondness for coffee.

There are many scientific studies which have demonstrated that caffeine (taken as coffee or otherwise as a supplement) improves race performance, decreases perceived effort and increases oxygen update for endurance events.

The optimum dose has been found to be about 3-6mg per kg, which is roughly the equivalent of one large strong coffee for the average person – of course, this is dependent on whether you're normally a sipper of green tea or if you mainline a couple of coffees in the morning like me. People who drink less coffee need less on race day for the same effect.

Surprisingly, despite popular belief, coffee has been found to have little effect on dehydration. The best time to take in caffeine for peak performance is about an hour before a race starts, but I usually drink coffee with breakfast about two to two-and-a-half hours before a race to avoid exciting Portaloo situations.

If you're concerned about the effects of coffee on your gut pre-race, there are other options such as caffeine supplements or gels available, but as always, do test out whatever you are planning for race day in advance to avoid any surprises.

In theory, cutting back or eliminating coffee for a week before a major event will enhance the effects of coffee on the day. Although I've found in the past that the withdrawal effects were enough to make it unlikely that I would actually make it to race day without being arrested, so I choose to keep drinking my cuppa Joe on race week and just top up with a little extra on race day to keep my competitive edge.

Last weekend I had two big workouts – a 20-mile run as part of my Boston Marathon preparations on the Saturday and a three-hour bike ride with friends on Sunday.

The thoughts of coffee and coconut flour pancakes lured me out of bed to meet my work colleague Aubrey for an early run down the Los Gatos Creek Trail. I arranged to meet her at the wonderful Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Company so I could sneak in a quick top-up espresso first.

My Sunday bike ride took me and some friends to Saratoga and, coincidentally, back to Los Gatos en route. I'd foolishly mentioned I wanted to get some hill climbing in and found myself on a 1,000m ascent up Mount Eden to the Saratoga Gap, followed by a hair-raising descent and some rolling hills to Alma Bridge. By the time we'd rounded the Lexington Reservoir I was feeling every mile of the previous day and begged the others for a coffee stop. It was time for the big guns: a triple Americano and a ginger oatcake to sort out the blood sugar. Patched up with caffeine and baked goods, we sailed thankfully homewards.

Irish Independent

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