What Athletes Need to Know About Coffee

I start each day with fresh ground coffee. I like it black and I’m willing to spend a few extra bucks to have a nice, strong cup that tastes just the way I like it.

Coffee and athletics have long been connected. Many runs and rides either start or finish at a local coffee shop. Athletes argue about when to drink coffee before a race to insure a convenient pre-race poo and whether they should taper caffeine in the weeks before a competition.

However, new information about how coffee and caffeine impact performance shows that we may not understand our morning cups as well as we think.

Coffee May Not be a Diuretic

When I was a kid, my mother said that for every cup of coffee I drank, I’d pee two cups. That stuck with me. To this day, I try to match every cup of coffee with water per her warning. But recent studies indicate that mom might’ve gotten it wrong. It seems that people who drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages every day don’t experience water loss. However, people who don’t regularly consume caffeine you may experience a minor diuretic effect.

Caffeine Taper is Probably Just in Your Head

Starting in 2017, I cut out caffeine one to two weeks before major races and only broke my caffeine fast on race day. The hope was that my body would have adjusted to the lack of caffeine and I’d get a boost from drinking coffee after the break. Also, if you are a coffee drinker, knowing you’re having your first coffee in weeks really makes race morning something to look forward to.

Unfortunately, research casts doubt on the benefits of abstaining from caffeine before a race.

That said, the mind plays a huge role in performance. If you believe laying off from caffeine for a week before a big race gives you a boost during a race, go for it.

Don’t Overdo it

In college, I shot back two 5-Hour Energy drinks before a time trial hoping that the caffeine overload would propel me to a faster time. Unfortunately, it only propelled my heart rate and nothing else in my body. Instead of giving me performance edge, it made me breathless during the warm-up.

When it comes to caffeine, more is not necessarily better. According to this guide to caffeine use, just 2-3 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight can be enough to improve performance, especially for athletes who rarely consume caffeine.

Athletes used to caffeine see positive results when they consume up to about 6mg/kg. However, drinking more than that is more likely to make you jittery, nervous or nauseated. To put 3-6mg/kg into coffee-speak, drip coffee typically has about 9-15mg/oz (or 72-120mg for 8oz) and espresso has about 30-40mg/oz.