Doctor’s Corner with Dr. Steve Smith


Doctors Corner

Does Caffeine Really Help Running Performance?

Getting the most out of your training runs is something you learn over time. After many years of training and racing you know what works best for you, that is until you start training with a good coach. Sometimes I’ll read a new research article then try something different, If it works I’ll add it to the ever expanding box of knowledge. Years of training experience at least tells you when you are making rookie mistakes, like running too fast at the start of a race, eating the wrong foods the night before, or starting a race you haven’t trained well for and expecting a PR. Over time, you pick up little tricks that become part of your nature, little tricks that can make all the difference on your runs.

One of my favorite routines is to have a shot of coffee before a run. I swear, coffee makes me feel like I can conquer the meanest hill, the longest run and faster than I really ought to go. I just feel like I perform better with a cup of Java before a run, liquid rocket fuel!

Two articles were published in October then again in November that do indeed add credence that caffeine can boost performance. Last month there was a research review of nine studies that states, “Based on the reviewed studies there is moderate evidence supporting the use of coffee as an ergogenic aid to improve performance in endurance cycling and running.” (Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015 Nov 16.) Last October’s study of the effect of Turkish Coffee on running performance gave the following findings: “When comparing Turkish coffee to decaffeinated coffee in responders only, significantly faster times were noted when consuming TC compared to DC. No significant benefits were noted in measures of cognitive function. (meaning coffee makes people do things faster, without being smarter)

Although the the Turkish Coffee study was a small sample size, it was doubled blinded, adding evidence that coffee might just give you an edge. (J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015 Oct 6)

If you are not a coffee drinker, be careful. Coffee has a downside for some people, like heart palpitations, lightheadedness and possible sleep problems. The evidence doesn’t say that drinking larger quantity is better, only a cup of Turkish Coffee 30 minutes to an hour before a run. Who drinks Turkish coffee though! I’m headed over to Sur Le Table to get a Turkish Coffee gizmo, anything to support my coffee habit.

What is most important in all this conversation about coffee is that it really supports my own bias, adding fuel to my sense of righteousness and superiority, especially after that cup of Java!

Warmest Regards,

Dr. Steve Smith

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