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Discussion: Caffeine Enhances Performance

in: Orienteering; General

Apr 1, 2009 6:56 PM # 
In case you didn't know it already...
NY Times article
Apr 1, 2009 10:02 PM # 
And after the coffee, after the race...a good excuse to have a beer!

...For people over 55, an alcoholic drink a day reduces the risk of death, a new study has found...moderate alcohol consumption was associated with a 28 percent reduction in the risk for mortality compared with not drinking....
Apr 1, 2009 11:36 PM # 
As someone who thinks beer is pretty gross, I'm going to play devil's advocate. I'm willing to bet that people who don't drink at all are a little more uptight, and perhaps have a higher stress level than those who drink moderately. I may be totally wrong (after all, I'm one of those people but I don't think I'm uptight), but that does make sense to me...

Otherwise, drink on! ;-)
Apr 1, 2009 11:57 PM # 
R Anderson:
I've been reading up on this caffeine stuff lately. So yesterday afternoon I drank a cup of coffee (probably the second time in my life) in order to run a little experiment with my interval session a few hours later.

Maybe it was all in my head, but I felt great during the training and my lap times seemed fast. Even if I probably didn't drink enough to significantly improve my performance, I felt awake and energetic which was really nice.

My question is, should i remain a non-coffee/caffeine drinker and only drink it on mornings of big races? Or should i drink it fairly regularly so that my body is not shocked by the effects on race day?
Apr 2, 2009 1:56 AM # 
I would think that any affect would be heightened by abstaining until the time you really want the performance enhancement. Caffeine is like a drug in that once you are hooked you need it to feel normal and to feel a big boost you need more of it.
Apr 2, 2009 2:16 AM # 
All that coffee does to you is make you pee. Just like drinking gatorade, juice, and water. So you can drink coffee before during after your race. It wont change you drasticly
Apr 2, 2009 2:53 AM # 
Some commenters should consider reading the article before commenting.
Apr 2, 2009 3:04 AM # 
Maybe they did and simply dispute assertions therein and therefore opt to ignore them.
Apr 2, 2009 3:15 AM # 
so what about downing a Red Bull or equivalent drink that includes all those other things like gurana etc. These are supposed to be high in caffeine. a cup of coffee would only have the caffeine and maybe sugar depending on individual tastes.
Apr 2, 2009 3:16 AM # 
Ignore? Their loss... cause Tarnopolsky is a damn bright scientist
(and orienteers too like the article states)
Apr 2, 2009 3:31 AM # 
hey, hummer, have you used caffeine as performance enhancer? :)
Apr 2, 2009 4:33 AM # 
I saw the article on the O Kansas blog. I was struck by one of the character's comments that his brother's track team should all go to Starbucks. They'd probably have to order Red Bulls, 'cause they wouldn't find much caffeine in Starbucks' coffee.
Apr 2, 2009 11:31 AM # 
Don't worry! I did read and am not ignoring!
Apr 2, 2009 11:41 AM # 
Greg, well since I was one of the athletes in his original studies in the early 90's the answer is yes - but well below the WADA levels at the time.
Apr 2, 2009 11:55 AM # 
I've used caffeine extensively in Rogaines and Adventure Races. I typically only use it when I'm feeling a bit off at night. A 200mg tablet (about what you get in a large cup of coffee) makes a noticable difference for an hour or so.

I tried taking the same dosage before O events and found that my performance suffered. I think I'm already alert enough before a short race and the caffeine just makes me hyper and I start overrunning things. YMMV.
Apr 2, 2009 12:03 PM # 
Yes caffeine only used in AR and rogaines for me too.
Apr 2, 2009 2:37 PM # 
During the last decade I'd take an excedrin before a run so I wouldn't get a migraine, but not everyday during multi day events. I noticed I made better orienteering decisions when I had the caffeine.
Apr 2, 2009 8:56 PM # 
I would have sworn that CNOC posted this...
Apr 3, 2009 5:31 AM # 
The article states

"Caffeine, it turns out, actually works. And it is legal, one of the few performance enhancers that is not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency."

Who does the testing at the olympic? WADA?

I thought we had an Australian decathalon (or maybe fencer) olympian kicked out for caffeine use about a decade or so ago.

Reckon all you coffee drinkers are cheats!

Stop it now.
Apr 3, 2009 8:08 AM # 

Caffeine considered for banned drugs list in sport

The World Today - Thursday, 19 May , 2005 12:42:00
Reporter: Steve Marshall
ELEANOR HALL: The international body which regulates drugs in sport has weighed into the caffeine tablets debate, with World Anti-Doping Agency officials saying they're concerned about research by the Australian Institute of Sport.

That research found caffeine is performance enhancing and the World Body now says it's considering banning or restricting caffeine in all its forms for competing athletes.

But the Institute of Sport says such an approach would not only be too hard to enforce, it could also undermine lucrative sponsorship deals between athletes and companies like Coca-Cola.

As Steve Marshall explains.

STEVE MARSHALL: There's been a string of surprising confessions by high profile athletes about taking caffeine tablets to boost their performance.

First it was AFL players, then the Australian Rugby Union captain George Gregan. The Men's Australian Hockey team won gold in Athens last year after taking caffeine tablets. Former Australian pentathlete Alex Watson was expelled from the Olympics in 1988 after he tested positive to excess levels of caffeine.

But caffeine has never been on the World Anti-doping Agency's banned list. It was on its restricted list until early last year. That meant only a certain level of caffeine was allowed in an athlete's body.

According to the Australian Institute of Sport's Head of Nutrition, Louise Watson, placing caffeine back on WADA's restricted substances list is a waste of time.

LOUISE WATSON: Personally, I think a black and white rule as impractical or even as nonsensical or whatever your view is that you like to take, that would be in some ways easier to live by to some aspects of working with athletes, than it would be to have a restricted level.

A restricted level was always ambiguous and it was always problematic in terms of could you have a little bit, or could you not? It would be easier to ban it outright in some ways, even though that would make it awfully difficult for athletes to achieve that ? but at least it would be a very clear indication of what was meant, rather than having some kind of ambiguity there.

STEVE MARSHALL: But banning caffeine outright isn't that simple. Caffeine is used in not only coffee, but many other food and drink products, like hot chocolate, energy drinks and over the counter medications.

Louise Watson says banning the drug outright may create undesirable outcomes for athletes and sports sponsorship.

LOUISE WATSON: And there would be the practical implications of trying to educate athletes about that, and then of course then you're going to have a whole lot of positive tests which occur and probably continue to occur because of the difficulties doing that, and the stigma attached with that.

But in terms of other aspects of sport, perhaps all the sponsors of sport like the Coca-Colas who have products that do contain caffeine, are going to have difficulties, and I would imagine that the loss of sponsorship dollars that that would mean to a lot of sports and organisations would also have major implications.
Apr 3, 2009 9:04 AM # 
In my experience it's worth being careful with timing. I haven't really experimented to see whether there's any positive effect (though I will now!), but on a few occasions have felt flat going running a while after drinking coffee. So I'd be interested to know after how long the positive effects generally wear off, and what happens to your performance level when it does. I suspect when the caffeine wears off your performance is worse than normal - but it's difficult to tell.
Apr 3, 2009 12:14 PM # 
The idea of banning caffeine because it enhances performance is completely misguided. The only reason to ban something is if it's dangerous or has abuse potential. Carbohydrates are performance enhancing as well, will we eventually have a call to ban them?
Apr 3, 2009 5:27 PM # 
Yes JJ, and also drinking caffeinated beverages is a cultural norm. Almost everyone consumes them on a normal day.... as a performance enhancer. A cuppa joe helps some people to not be grumpy in the morning. Or helps them to focus on the driving their car through rush hour. Or makes them alert and energetic for the presentation to clients at work. It may be the most widely used drug there is. How can you ban something so widespread, useful, and dare I say, healthful?
Apr 3, 2009 6:04 PM # 
That's the proper argument to make. This silliness from the article about "but we'd lose sponsorship money!" is absurd. If it were actually dangerous in normal quantities then I'm not sure why it would matter whether sponsorship money was lost. What a strange angle.
Apr 3, 2009 7:58 PM # 
Exactly. And if the meth lab guys were offering sponsorship...?
Apr 4, 2009 2:21 AM # 
It may be the most widely used drug there is.
Alcohol wouldn't be far behind - that's dangerous or has abuse potential and most televised team sport shin-digs have plenty of the sponsors' alcoholic products being consumed. But I guess that's only performance enhancing post-competition?
Apr 4, 2009 2:57 AM # 
Replacing necessary blood sugars Tooms. Any news on when alco versions of powerade/staminade are being released?
Apr 4, 2009 11:13 AM # 
Coca-Cola is not just a kid's drink. As you'll learn by reading up on the history of Coca-Cola, it originally was invented as a patent medicine to cure addiction to morphine. Coke was also viewed as an alcohol substitute called "French Wine" and first became popular in "dry" areas where prohibition laws existed.

The original Coke must have been quite a brew: each glass contained 9mg of cocaine! And altho removed in the early 20th century, over 100 tons of coca leaves from South America are still used today in the production of modern Coke, to provide the characteristic flavor only.

Coke has also always contained caffeine, from Kola nuts. And about a hundred years ago, the US gov't tried to force Coke to remove the caffeine, believing it was harmful too. But the suit was unsuccessful, and today Coke contains 34mg of caffeine in every 12oz bottle. By comparison, an 8oz can of Red Bull contains 80mg of caffeine.
Apr 6, 2009 2:08 AM # 

Apr 6, 2009 11:01 PM # 
The following two abstracts show that the caffeine ingestion seems to be more beneficial for endurance than power athletes at maximal effort.

British Journal of Sports Medicine 1988;22:132-134; doi:10.1136/bjsm.22.4.132
Copyright © 1988 BMJ Publishing Group Ltd & British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine.
Caffeine, maximal power output and fatigue.
J H Williams, J F Signorile, W S Barnes and T W Henrich

Department of Health and Physical Education, Texas A&M University.

The purpose of this investigation was to determine the effects of caffeine ingestion on maximal power output and fatigue during short term, high intensity exercise. Nine adult males performed 15 s maximal exercise bouts 60 min after ingestion of caffeine (7 or placebo. Exercise bouts were carried out on a modified cycle ergometer which allowed power output to be computed for each one-half pedal stroke via microcomputer. Peak power output under caffeine conditions was not significantly different from that obtained following placebo ingestion. Similarly, time to peak power, total work, power fatigue index and power fatigue rate did not differ significantly between caffeine and placebo conditions. These results suggest that caffeine ingestion does not increase one's maximal ability to generate power. Further, caffeine does not alter the rate or magnitude of fatigue during high intensity, dynamic exercise.


British Journal of Sports Medicine 1986;20:109-112; doi:10.1136/bjsm.20.3.109
Copyright © 1986 BMJ Publishing Group Ltd & British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine.
The influence of caffeine ingestion on incremental treadmill running.
L R McNaughton

The aim of this study was to determine the effects of caffeine ingestion on estimated substrate utilisation during treadmill running at an initial level of 70%-75% of maximal oxygen consumption after which subjects ran to exhaustion. Twelve subjects undertook either a control, placebo, a small (10 mg X kg-1) or a large (15 mg X kg-1) dose of caffeine in a double-blind design to determine whether caffeine affected the substrate usage during running. Venous blood was collected prior to and during the experimental runs and was later analysed for free fatty acids (FFA), glycerol, triglycerides, lactate and glucose concentrations. The results of this experiment suggest that maximal running performance can be increased by large doses of caffeine. Furthermore, the subjects' respiratory exchange ratios were lower and FFA concentrations were higher following the ingestion of large amounts of caffeine than during other trials, suggesting that a larger proportion of energy was derived from fat being used preferentially during the trial following ingestion of this large dose of caffeine. The subjects rating of perceived exertion (RPE) were lower following the ingestion of a large dose of caffeine than it was in any of the other trials. This study differs from others in this area in so much that caffeine has been found to have positive effects during maximal running when used in large doses.
Apr 7, 2009 4:42 AM # 
As Eric pointed out, it's very common for adventure racers and rogainers to take caffeine, particularly at night to help through the "dead hours" (approx. 2-5AM) until sunrise starts to perk everyone up. Pretty much everyone I've raced with is willing to take caffeine during that time, but not always, and usually only a single 200 mg dose, even if they normally never indulge. The timing is important to get the maximum effect out of the minimum amount.

Primal Quest does treat caffeine as a performance enhancing substance, and their "official" rules (in 2006, I believe) stated a hard maximum of 12 μg/ml in urine. I think they upped the amount for 2008. But I'm not sure they've ever actualy tested anyone, even the top teams and nevermind the amateurs.

I might be unusual, being an inveterate caffeine addict (of more than 20 years) - but it still has an effect for me during nighttime racing. For shorter orienteering events, I've noticed no benefit to anything beyond the normal intake, either in actual or perceived performance. At that level, the benefit seems mostly psychological.
Apr 7, 2009 4:50 AM # 
Re: the McNaughton study - they actually called 10 mg/kg a "small" dose? That's at least 3x the quantity I was talking about. I wouldn't be surprised if that much had a physiological effect!
Apr 7, 2009 3:10 PM # 
The NYT article cites much smaller quantities as being effective, though:

"athletes get the full caffeine effect with as little as 1 milligram of caffeine per kilogram of body weight."

From my understanding of this stuff (superficial, of course!), I think the problem is that there are two distinct effects from caffeine. There's the one that we're all familiar with, the wake-up, fresh cup in the morning effect, and then there's the masking the feeling of being tired effect, the one addressed in the articles. The former is easy to feel and requires that you drink more and more over time as you get used to it. The latter is harder to realize unless you make quantitative observations.

Either way, sounds like a decent idea before a road race, but I'm maybe not before an orienteering event. Most of us already run faster than we can read the map. ;-)
Apr 7, 2009 4:13 PM # 
The part about all this that strikes me as odd is that it's all being treated as new information. Athletes have known for decades that caffeine improves performance and have used it in both normal and excessive quantities. I'm not sure how a quantitative study changes any of that.

To my knowledge, nobody has suffered serious health side effects, although I can't imagine that taking doses in the 2000-3000mg range (yes, I know folks who have done that) is a good idea.
Apr 7, 2009 9:45 PM # 
I was at Primal Quest 2004, and the top 10 teams were subjected to a random drug test at a transition area. "Excessive" caffeine was one of the banned substances. But that's the only time I've heard of a test in adventure racing.
Apr 7, 2009 10:05 PM # 
i have not seen it mentioned as to whether or not there is a caffeine low once it wears out like a sugar low.
Apr 8, 2009 12:38 AM # 
Most of us already run faster than we can read the map. ;-)

...but not all
running speed is definitely my limitation.
but I agree that the right amount of caffine is somewhere between enough to improve running, and not too much to add to pre-race jitters. As a dedicated coffee drinker my main difficulty is getting my usual dose to start the day when I'm away at races (lucky there's a coffee van at easter!).

It was interesting to note that my best international result, by quite a margin, was a caffine free race...
Apr 8, 2009 1:31 AM # 
> The part about all this that strikes me as odd is that it's all being treated as new information.

I don't think the article is saying this is new (Tarnopolsky is even quoted in the article mentioning that many labs have shown a performance enhancement for a while). Rather the new info is they now believe they understand the mechanism behind the performance enhancement.

from the cbc clip

In Friday's online issue of the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, however, Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky of McMaster University Medical Centre found caffeine tricks an athlete's brain into delaying the perception of pain and fatigue.

More importantly, it also prompts muscles into releasing more of the calcium needed to contract and relax.

"The caffeine is allowing a little bit more calcium to be released into that muscle," said Tarnopolsky. "It would make that muscle contraction a little bit stronger, so you can actually either run at the same pace with less input, or run at a faster pace for the same input."

This discussion thread is closed.