The surreptitious use of a little caffeine just before the big event is one of the little tricks of the trade, used by professional endurance athletes, to improve stamina and allow them to keep going for longer.
The caffeine effect is not magic
Don’t get excited – a dose of caffeine is not going to allow you to finish the Comrades or Argus, without doing any training, but it might improve your time, a little.
And despite the fact that you’re getting a pharmacological boost to your performance, if you don’t go overboard, you will not be accused of “cheating”.
A little caffeine power is not cheating
Sporting bodies often “watch” the caffeine levels in professional athletes “pee”. However, the powers that be, realize that life without a little java could potentially be a very miserable existence, so TROUBLE only surfaces if the urine sample has more than 12 mg/litre.
Everyone is different, but if you were average, this would translate to consuming 1000 mg of caffeine (8-10 cups of coffee) prior to competing.
PS. Savy competitors are unlikely to get their fix from actually drinking cups of coffee, since a full bladder is unlikely to be conducive to a gold medal level performance. The serious competitor will opt to pop a caffeine pill but even then, not too much.
Too much caffeine is unlikely to give a competitive edge – a megadose of the stuff typically leaves you freaked out and chomping at the bit. The key to using caffeine is to understand that less is more.
The less is more principle
Caffeine is rather special when it comes to its effects
The graph illustrates the principle. If you have a little bit of drug, you get a little effect. As you increase the drug, you get more of an effect. At some point (it will be different for everyone) you get the maximum effect. If you keep increasing the dose, you don’t get better you actually get worse, until you get to a point where you have no benefit at all.
So the secret to getting the performance boost from caffeine, is to take just the right amount to get your muscles firing up.
PS. This is actually the secret to using any chemical.
Firing the muscles with caffeine
I quite literally mean firing up the muscles.
The endurance benefits are due to the fact that caffeine is modifying the fuel supply to the muscle, allowing it to keep going – it is this effect that is important for the sports enthusiast.
I should mention that caffeine is also able to modify a variety of neurotransmitters, which also have the potential to improve performance by improving your “attitude”. Think how grumpy you are first thing in the morning and how a cup of coffee is able to lift the mood, but this has nothing to do with muscles go-going.
So how does the caffeine do this ?
In order for your muscle to contract – it needs energy.
The energy that the muscle uses is ATP (adenosine triphosphate), it is created when your cell burns “fuel” during a complicated series of chemical reactions, known as the Krebs cycle. If the muscle runs out of fuel, you become exhausted and cramp up and “stop”.
The muscle gets this energy by burning fuel.
Just like when you fill your car up with fuel, you can choose between different types.
A cell can choose
- the low octane version, which is called glycogen and is in short supply
- the high octane version called fat, which most of us have an ample supply of, but it isn’t stored in the muscle, instead it is stored in special depots called fat cells.
To use the high octane stuff, the fuel needs to be transported in – it turns out that this process is a little inefficient.
Caffeine wheels in fat
When you first start exercising, the natural tendency is to use the fuel which is on hand.
As a rule the fitter you are, the bigger the glycogen supply, this is why the couch potatoe is exhausted just climbing a flight of stairs and why carbo loading is sometimes helpful, prior to a big event.
Unfortunately, if all the glycogen is used up (and this can happen pretty quickly) then that is it, the muscle is caput.
There is no energy !
But, if you have taken that little bit of caffeine the story changes.
Caffeine immediately mobilizes the fat i.e. it is able to bring the fat, from the fat cells, to the muscle. The muscle can now use fat instead of glycogen. Muscles that make the fuel switch, are able to keep firing, because they don’t run out of glycogen. Because the glycogen pile is not depleted, the muscle can exercise for longer before exhaustion occurs.
Don’t carbo load, caffeine load
To get the full benefit, caffeine needs to be in your system at the time the muscles go into action and there for the length of the event.
This means that you have to do a little pharmacological planning particularly if you are participating in a long event.
So caffeine load and shave a few seconds off your time.
Interested in learning more about how to use chemicals to improve your performance ?
Subscribe to E-spoons, our free e-zine, packed with tips on how to get your body chemistry working optimally.
NOTE : Privacy & spam policy. Spoonful of Science will not rent, trade or sell the e-mail list to anyone. You can unsubscribe at any time by following the unsubscribe link.
Visit the Caffeine Spoon
|How caffeine keeps you going and going||Popeye turns to beetroot for his muscle fix||How to juice up the heart battery so it pumps in a crisis|
The 7 Big Spoons™…. are master switches that turn health on.
|Balance Eicosanoids||Rein in insulin||Dial down stress||Sleep !||Increase Vit D||Culivate microflora||Think champion|
Did you learn something new or do you have a different perspective ? I’d love to hear from you so post me a comment below…..