I was reading a friends (I’ll keep her nameless, but if she’s reading this she will know who she is, and I hope she takes no offense by what I am going to say.) blog the other day, and she mentioned that she had a caffeine tablet before her run because she was feeling tired, it perked her right up and she had a great run. My first reaction to this was that I was actually angry at her. I didn’t think she was a idiot, but to do something like that.. well I was beyond words. I was going to write her a strong comment suggesting that this was a idiotic thing to do. But in my writing of the comment, I realised I was using a lot of hersay and I didn’t actually know what caffeine does to the body, and the effect that this has on ones abilty to train. I am addicted to caffeine, where I think my friend isn’t so maybe I am doing my self more damage because I need a regular hit every morning, then she is by taking the odd tablet.
So here are my orginal arguments, I don’t know if they have any substance to them:
- Listen to the body, if its tired don’t do activity, you need to recover. Caffeine only masks the feeling
- It is designed to increase HR, and gets your muscles firing more. Thus the effort of the run will be different than without.
- Lastly, but the most important, if you train with caffeine than you will not get the added benefits out of it on race day.
So I have done a little research and this is what I have come up with.
What Does Caffeine actually do?
Caffeine works on your brain chemistry. That is all it actually does. The change in brain chemistry has the phisological effects on the body, not the caffeine itself.
Caffeine works in two ways, increases dopemin levels, this makes you feel good, and is the addictive part of caffeine. The 2nd is to make you more alert. This is the important part that you need to understand. A brain nerve cell has adenosine receptors, when adensine is bound to the receptor, this causes drowiness by slowing down the nerve cell activity. Caffeine, is the same shape as adenosine and attaches itself to the adenosine receptor, this means that there is no where for the actual adenosine to attach to. So instead on slowing down, the nerve cells speed up. The pituitary gland sees all of the activity and thinks some sort of emergency must be occurring, so it releases hormones that tell the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline (epinephrine). Adrenaline is the “fight or flight” hormone, and it has a number of effects on your body:
- Your pupils dilate.
- Your breathing tubes open up (this is why people suffering from severe asthma attacks are sometimes injected with epinephrine).
- Your heart beats faster.
- Blood vessels on the surface constrict to slow blood flow from cuts and also to increase blood flow to muscles. Blood pressure rises.
- Blood flow to the stomach slows.
- The liver releases sugar into the bloodstream for extra energy.
- Muscles tighten up, ready for action.
Caffeine has a half life of 6 hours, If you drink a big cup of coffee with 200 mg of caffeine at 4PM, at 10PM you still have about 100mg in your body. By 4AM, you still have 50mg floating in your system. Excerise has no effect on this life span. Caffeine will exist for this long no matter what you are doing.
So what does this mean to exercise ?
Studies have shown that caffeine is benefical, for endurance exercise up 2 hrs (sorry the ain’t tested 8+ hours so the jury is out on that one). But you can’t take that caffeine in a expresso or 2 before the race. Sorry coffee lovers, but coffee has other elements that actual prohibit performance. The theory that caffeine may help the burning of fat as a fuel is bogus (and I was so hopeful that I had found a solution to increase my fat burning potential). The most interesting statement I came across is “The limited information available suggests that caffeine non-users and users respond similarly and that withdrawal from caffeine may not be important.”.
Now that statement is important, as information I have read, suggests that withdrawal of caffeine 1-2 weeks out from a big race is needed, to get the benefits on race day. But from this statement we can learn that might not be the case. And that means, those of us who are addicted, do not have to worry about go into withdrawal symptoms a few weeks out from a big race.
But lets look at this logically, for us caffeine addicts, it is not healthy to always be putting our body through the “flight and fight” response. It plays havoc with our hormones and will tire us out more. So in reality to stop the addiction would be the most advantageous to us, and will hopefully help and training and overall well being. Unfortunatly, caffeines dopemin effects have a strangle hold on me. I don’t know if I can beat them.
But lets get away form me, and back to the orginal issue. Should we use caffine in training? Well here’s Chuckie V’s opinion (referring to Peter Reid)
“Don’t rely on coffee or caffeine to get you through your workouts, particularly the last three weeks of your Ironman preparation. It masks your fatigue too much and ideally you want to head into the event fully rested.” Peter would wean himself from caffeine three weeks out of Hawaii so he could be more in tuned with the signals his body was sending. He didn’t want to grind his way through another hard workout when he should’ve been resting.
I think this is the important point I take from this article. As athletes we have to “know” our bodys. If we are masking any of the body’s responses, than we will not know when to take it easy, or understand when we need to recover first.
But if we plan to race on a caffeine, than we need to practice on caffeine, as I pointed out earlier, we don’t need to ween ourselves of it, to get the response required. But I would suggest that you train on caffeine, only when you feel awake and alert, and as a simulation to race day.
My Random thought on the issue
This is purely subjugation, and without any proof to back me, caffeine only triggers the body response from changing the brain chemistry, the body is capable of generating the same response itself, so maybe caffeine is a lazy way for us to get our body’s to respond to what we need, rather than training our body to actually generate the response properly. Maybe the study’s done didn’t test the really top athletes that might be be able to manage there body’s responses without resorting to caffeine.
Caffeine is a drug, we dislike athletes that have used performance enhancing drugs and call them cheats. Caffeine used to be a perfomance enhancing drug, but because of the common use in society, it was dropped from the banned list (though think it is still there, but at really really high quanties). Maybe we shouldn’t judge these athletes so harshly when we ourselves are trying hard to find the “legal” drugs available to enhance our performance.
As always, I have formed my opinion from these sources. If you want to form your own, read them yourself.