It has long been a topic of debate in the running world as to potential benefits of drinking caffeine prior to a race or even during a run. Research suggests that caffeine can actually boost your running performance.

Numerous studies have suggested that consuming caffeine could help you run faster and burn more fat during your workout. Researchers at the Australian Institute of Sport, for example, suggested that consuming even a small amount of caffeine before and during exercise can help people exercise almost a third longer.

Consuming even a small amount of caffeine before and during exercise can help people exercise almost a third longer.
-Australian Institute of Sport

A drawback originally identified with use of caffeine was that it was a diuretic, so could inhibit runners by causing dehydration. However, more recent recent scientific studies have concluded that caffeinated beverages contribute to the body’s hydration needs similarly to non-caffeinated beverages. Essentially the consensus was that moderate ingestion of caffeine does not promote dehydration.

Triggers fat burn

The Australian Institute of Sport team found that caffeine triggers the muscles to start using fat as an energy source rather than carbohydrate sugars. Caffeine has been used by many endurance athletes over the years as a way of getting extra energy out of their body's reserves during a running event.

The researchers tested the effects of caffeine on cyclists, who were allowed to drink non-fizzy cola or coffee as they pedaled. Those who did so were able to keep going longer than those who just drank water. Taking caffeine prior to exercise might help amateur runners as well as elite athletes. Some studies have found that using caffeine when exercising can result in delayed fatigue by up to 60 per cent.

Reduced muscle pain

Researchers at the University of Georgia found that caffeine could help reduce muscle pain. The findings, published in The Journal of Pain , found that caffeine reduced thigh-muscle pain during cycling exercise.

Participants in the study cycled for 30 minutes on two separate days. The exercise intensity was the same on both days and set to make the riders' thigh muscles hurt. Participants took either a caffeine pill or a placebo one hour before the exercise. The riders reported feeling substantially less pain in their thigh muscles after taking caffeine compared to after taking the placebo.

Caffeine and performance

There is general acceptance that caffeine does indeed enhance performance and makes the effort during exercise seem easier. It’s benefits are said to be more noticeable during endurance exercise than shorter exercise. Caffeine also plays a role in helping contribute to clearer thinking and greater concentration.

Clearly caffeine is readily available in a variety of products, from coffee to cans of soda, to sports specific products such as energy gels and powders. These allow the athlete quick access to caffeine before exercise, and in some cases during it. More benefits from caffeine are likely in the athlete who rarely drinks coffee, and therefore is not as resistant to its stimulant effect.

But don’t assume that caffeine will have the same impact on you as it does on another person. Each person responds differently to caffeine, and in some cases its use can result in caffeine jitters, headaches, upset stomach or insomnia. For some, hydrating with just water can be the best option for hydration, and during a race it’s likely to be readily available unlike caffeinated drinks.