After taking caffeine, it will appear in the blood within 5-15 minutes and peak at about 40-80 minutes. The half-life of caffeine in the blood is 3-5 hours, which will guide runners on how much to consume during long-distance races. Caffeine really helps to increase performance and power. The average increase in performance during an average distance race, is 2.2% and in power 3.3%. According to your genes and metabolism, some people can get an increase of even 20%. Now we know that caffeine helps and works in many different forms. Consuming caffeine or caffeine supplements during a race has no difference in performance benefits, they both have similar benefits.
The reason why caffeine increases performance is that it helps boost our performance physically and psychologically. In order to get physiological boost, we need to consume moderate doses of 3-6mg caffeine/kg of bodyweight, and psychological boost are seen at lower doses of 1-3mg/kg of bodyweight.
According to some research, the reason why we get the physiological benefits is that caffeine enhances fat oxidation, which spares muscle glycogen. This process enhances the release of fatty acids from adipose tissue, which increases fat use while running. Second physiological benefit is how caffeine alters how calcium is processed within skeletal muscle, increasing the amount of calcium which increases the amount of power that muscle can generate.
Coffee drinkers know very well about all the psychological benefits of caffeine. It improves the ability to concentrate and focus, which are very important skills for ultra-runners, especially once we start to feel fatigue. Caffeine can also reduce our perceived exertion and leg pain during intense or long-distance runs. Our body has receptors for caffeine in nearly every tissue in the body, that is why we get so many benefits from caffeine.
Timing and Dosage of Caffeine:
It is important to know how to use caffeine for races. First of all, caffeine taper can help most runners. The week before a race, gradually lower your intake of caffeine, so that when you consume it the day of the race you will have more benefits. Reintroduce caffeine in the morning of the race (pre-race).
Timing: Taking caffeine 1-1 ½ hour before the race will kick start your performance. During short-distance races, you can consume lower amounts of caffeine using 1 or 2 gels with caffeine. For long-distance races, there are two theories; First, consume the recommended caffeine intake 1-1 ½ hour before the race, and save your caffeine intake for the second half of the race. You can consume coffee at checkpoints, take gels with caffeine or caffeine supplements. The second theory; Consume lower dosage of caffeine during the entire race, consume through gels, bars or energy drinks with lower caffeine dosage. Again, this is according to your body type.
1-1 ½ hour pre-race caffeine intake recommendation: Moderate dose 3-6mg/kg of bodyweight.
Race caffeine intake recommendation: Lower dose 1-2mg/kg of bodyweight.
If caffeine is part of your race day nutrition intake, plan according to your race distance, elevation and race schedule.