A blog by runners. For runners.

Benefits of caffeine for runners


You might not think much of your morning cup of Joe. Sure it tastes good and gives you a much needed pick-me-up, but many people believe that’s where the benefits end.

But recent research shows coffee may boast a variety of health benefits. People who drink coffee are less likely to have:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Dementia
  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Strokes
  • Certain types of cancer, including liver cancer

A golden ticket for athletes

Caffeine is a natural stimulant. It improves alertness, concentration, and memory. So, it probably comes as no surprise that it is also known to boost athletic performance.

Caffeine is one of the longest and best studied ergogenic aids. Studies show it helps athletes train harder and exercise for a longer period of time, in fact it may help you be active for 10 to 15 percent longer. Caffeine also enhances athletic performance by making perceived effort seem easier.

The positive effects of caffeine are strongest in endurance athletes. Caffeine is most effective when taken an hour before exercise because it’s concentration in the blood peaks an hour after consumption. But it’s also absorbed quickly, so consuming it during a long run or race can be beneficial, too. In fact, taking in low doses of caffeine during an event can be just as helpful as drinking a large cup of coffee before an event.

That’s why so many fuel options — like energy gels and chews — have caffeine listed as an ingredient. These products contain about 20 to 50 mg of caffeine per pop, compared to about 100 to 200 mg in an 8 oz. cup of coffee. If you’re going to use caffeine during a race, make sure to drink plenty of fluids and consume carbohydrates (caffeinated energy gels and chews also contain carbs).

The cons of coffee

Reactions to caffeine differ between athletes. Some runners say they don’t feel the benefits of caffeine at all. While others have a strong, negative reaction to caffeine — it can cause nausea, headaches, anxiety, and tremors in some people. The only way to know how caffeine will affect you is through trial and error. Try caffeine during training runs before you use it on race day.

Note that, like everything, it’s best to consume caffeine only in moderation. When used in large amounts, coffee may cause high cholesterol levels and inflammation and increase the risk of heart disease. Also, caffeine is addictive and you can develop a tolerance to it over time, meaning you’ll eventually need larger amounts of caffeine to continue to feel the same benefits. And unless you drink your coffee black, drinking extra caffeinated beverages — which can be loaded with fat and calories — can wreak havoc on your waistline.

Do you drink coffee? Do you purposely choose fuel for long runs that contains caffeine?

Related: Homemade protein and energy bar alternative | Hydration 101 for athletes

Written by Jen Matz.