Most of us need caffeine, usually in the form of coffee or tea, to wake up in the morning. Can caffeine improve mountain biking performance during a race? And if so, how much caffeine is ideal? Is it possible to have too much caffeine?
Caffeine stimulates your central nervous system. It activates receptors in the brain and body that counteract the inhibitory effects that fatigue has on mental and physical performance. When you consume caffeine in moderate amounts (2-6milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight or about 1-3 cups of coffee for a 150lb person) about an hour before an endurance event, it has been shown to improve physical and mental performance. Studies indicate caffeine can decrease perceived exertion and pain, improve endurance exercise performance, and improve reaction time and concentration.
The NCAA restricts the amount of caffeine in an athlete’s system. Urine concentrations are limited to 15 micrograms per milliliter 2 to 3 hours before an event. This is about 500 milligrams or 6 to 8 cups of coffee. Everyone, including collegiate athletes, should avoid energy drinks, pills, or any caffeine supplements that are unlabeled or unclear about the caffeine content. These products are also more likely to contain stimulants that are banned substances.
Caffeine side effects
Some possible side effects of caffeine can differ in prevalence and severity among individuals. These include increased nervousness, jitteriness, elevated resting heart rate, restlessness, gastrointestinal issues, and disrupted sleep. These side effects are more common when consuming over 6-9mg of caffeine per kg body weight. As caffeine is a mild diuretic, it is important to consume it with adequate fluids to maintain good hydration, especially in the heat. Avoid relying on caffeine for chronic lack of sleep.
Some individuals are non-responders to caffeine. Experiment with different caffeine products before an event (mountain bike race) to see how your body reacts. Try coffee, gels, and blocks or chews to know what you like best. I like to take a caffeine gel 30 minutes before starting a race. Try not to drink too much caffeine every day because you can build a tolerance to it and have fewer performance benefits. Or try to cut back 7-10 days before an event.
Caffeine can enhance your performance but is not a substitute for lack of sleep and poor nutrition.
Emily is a Sports Dietitian who is passionate about helping others improve their health and athletic performance through proper nutrition. She races cyclocross professionally. She lives in Roanoke, VA with her husband Kerry and their beagle Sherman.
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