Caffeine is bad, caffeine should be avoided and we should all use only caffeine-free or reduced caffeine products. That is what we're told anyway. Caffeine isn't however quite the monster that some people would have us believe, particularly when you are using it to boost your endurance performance.
Caffeine, usually found and enjoyed via coffee has been found to be an incredibly beneficial ergogenic tool (a performing enhancing substance). It is naturally occurring and is not currently considered an illegal stimulant. It has been dropped by the Olympic committee as a stimulant substance to test for as it was considered difficult to differentiate between social and performance enhancing use. Indeed, the practice of using caffeine as a pre-event booster has become fairly standard practice. Of course, it is important when taking part in a professional level race to ensure that you stay on top of current regulations.
How Caffeine Works
Caffeine is well known as a stimulant but did you also know that it numbs the brain (as such) to how much physical effort you have put into an activity. For example, when running an endurance race it is your physical fatigue that will determine your progress as the event goes on. Taking the edge off that tiredness is a bonus however it does not mask everything and so you are still aware of any tweaks, pulls or hurts that "tell" you to slow it down. It basically just gives you the ability to push on a little longer, physically and mentally.
Caffeine also aids concentration and how alert you are, both vital when it comes to staying focused when taking part in an endurance event, or indeed any event.
Caffeine also helps to sharpen your reaction times. This is something that would certainly come in handy for cycling races, in sports such as tennis..... the list goes on.
Caffeine is also known to encourage the use of fat for energy over carbs. This means that your carbohydrate stores may be "saved" until needed most, again something particularly useful in longer events.
How Much Caffeine?
This is the golden question as how much caffeine is thought to be effective depends on a person's body mass. The current rule of thumb tends to be between three and eight milligrams of caffeine per kilo (body mass). Higher levels than this are not likely to boost performance further. Of course, how sensitive a person may be to caffeine is as individual as their weight and running style so this is perhaps something to look at during training, with small caffeine doses to start with and building up. Again, generally speaking, caffeine takes around forty minutes to properly get to work after being ingested.
Caffeine is not a magic wand, nor a guarantee of success; it is purely something which some athletes find give them an edge. As such an increasing number of athletes use it as a pre-event aid. While caffeine doesn't dehydrate it may have a diuretic effect, encouraging urine output, therefore it is important if using caffeine in this way to increase your hydration efforts.
Do you use caffeine as part of your pre-event routine to give you a boost?