Cycling and coffee, like Forrest Gump said: “go together like peas and carrots”. There’s a time-honored tradition of caffeine swilling in the long history of the bicycle, and it’s just as prevalent today. Actually: some may not consider you a ‘true’ cyclist if you don’t drink coffee! I’m sure there is something in the Velominati Rules about it.
Regardless of what type of cyclists you are, from single-speed loving hipsters to weight-weenie carbon fiber worshipers: the one uniting brew (other than beer) is COFFEE. Is there a reason that coffee and cycling go hand in hand? Perhaps. Here are a few bonuses of drinking that brownish caffeine-drink:
Caffeine, of Course!
Action Time! Ok, all you anti-dopers: caffeine is a chemical drug in the methylxanthine group of alkaloids. It’s a stimulant, obviously, that prepares your brain and body for action. Fun Fact: The World Anti-Doping Association dropped caffeine from the list of prohibited substances in 2004 (thank goodness!). So, go sip on that, you haters.
Increase Blood Flow. There are other effects on the cardiovascular and nervous system as well, to note: an increase in heart rate and the expansion of blood vessels to precipitate the flow of nutrients and oxygen to your system. Also: in general terms – you become more sensitive to stimulation as your nervous system function accelerates.
Increased Performance! How much? According to one study: if an athlete has at least 0.5mg of caffeine per kilo of body weight was enough caffeine to give riders a clear advantage in a 45 minute time trial. In this study, the participants drank coffee one hour before activity. But, the jury is out on the exact and best time-frame to consume caffeine because it varies so much between individuals.
Improved Muscle Performance. Apparently, there are some connections between caffeine consumption and enhance muscular contraction. Makes sense if your muscles are getting more ‘fuel’ and your nervous system is enhanced.
Better Endurance! Caffeine induces a fat-burning reaction in the body, sparing hard-earned glycogen that the body uses for energy. Basically: instead of blowing through all of your stored calories – caffeine stimulates your body’s ability to burn fat and therefore leaving a little extra in your energy bank. However: don’t go get a double cream latte with extra whip and sprinkles just because you read this article. You’ll see why in a bit…
Mental Endurance. Caffeine will increase the concentration of those ‘be happy’ endorphins in the brain and therefore reducing your perception of pain and enhancing your mood. No wonder people drink coffee every day regardless if they are riding a couch or a bike.
Recovery Benefits on the Bike! Thanks to caffeine’s glycogen hording abilities, athletes can recover more quickly and ride longer than those that do not consume caffeine. This is a great tip for longer rides. Also: great to know that apparently you reap the same rewards from your morning ‘cuppa joe’ even if you race in the afternoon – no ‘re-dosing’ required! If you do: it may over-stimulate your nervous system and induce a jittery affect.
…. And Here’s the Fine Print:
Too much caffeine can be a negative effect on your cycling performance, just like everything – it takes balance. While caffeine in the right amounts helps you focus, too much for your system and you will have difficulty thinking well. The last thing you want to be during a race is spaced-out and jittery. Over-stimulation is a safety concern and cause cyclist to over-react in situations requiring sharp mental acumen or take unnecessary risks. Too much caffeine can also make you anxious – not something you want to have if you suffer from race-nerves.
Caffeine also simulates other things, like your intestines. Keep this in mind if you have the pre-race runs… You know what I mean. It’s also a diuretic, so plan ahead so you don’t have to ‘Go’ on the bike! I’ve had to hunt for a bush on training rides before with the thought of “Oh $%#! I have to Peeeee!” As any diuretic: it will deplete your system of more than just water: consume the appropriate amount of water with electrolytes to compensate.
Studies also show that consuming caffeine after noon may inhibit a good night’s rest. Athlete’s need good sleep to perform well. Period.
Caffeine is addictive. As with any drug, removing it from your system can cause moodiness, irritability, and a depressed response from your body during activity. These symptoms can be expected for up to a week after removing caffeine from your system. Experts recommend tapering off of caffeine rather than the ‘cold turkey’ method.
Whatever you do – I don’t recommend falling into the trap of drinking over-sugared caffeine drinks. If you want to include caffeine into your diet, stay traditional and cycling hip and enjoy a nice cup of coffee!
If you’re curious, here’s a ton of articles on the subject (also included in as active links in the article):
The Bullet Proof Idea: Bunk or Bodacious?
What about Bullet-Proof Coffee? There was a stir about a year ago around adding fat in your coffee to enhance the glycogen-saving reaction and burn the fat stores first. By fat, I do NOT mean your double-cream latte with extra whip and sprinkles because the negative affects off the high glycemic index sugars and additives far outweigh the positives of the caffeine you’re imbibing. This are ‘good’ fats like coconut oil and ghee. As someone that suffers from chronic hypoglycemia: adding coconut oil to my single-source coffee helps my endurance level but it’s not like I follow Dave Asprey’s diet to the letter especially since not eating isn’t in my life plan – anywhere. Now: some hate Asprey, who started the fad because he shamelessly self-marketed and some still swear by its benefits. I can’t blame the guy for trying to make a buck and as for the hype around single-source having less micro-toxins… well, there’s something to this regardless of all the internet chest-beating to the contrary. I’ll explain why in another article!