Having spent many years training with guys who like to run many marathons each year as well as ultra marathons, I have had many anecdotal tips about caffeine use thrown my way. It might interest you to know that several top-level masters marathoners in Ohio swear by taking caffeinated pills in the later miles of a marathon. Others swear by lowering caffeine intake the weeks before a marathon in order to increase the boost on race day! Others swear off their usual morning coffee with worries of stomach distress. Previously too much caffeine could even disqualify you from elite competition!
I’ve dabbled with caffeine intake for my marathons and ultra marathons, and I must say I think it is great. Just ask my training partners, they love when I am highly caffeinated.
Here’s my personal marathon caffeine routine that you may want to try in your next race, note that everyone is individual and if you have medical issues exacerbated by caffeine, or have a crazy heart like Salty, these tips might not be great for you. If in doubt, check with your doctor. Personally, I have no doubts about my love and tolerance of caffeine during my marathons. Here’s what works for me.
[pullquote]Caffeine enhances fat-burning and carb absorption from gels. Even better, it delays your feeling of fatigue! Barista, make that a double![/pullquote]
Pre Race Week: Keeping it Normal
I’m a relatively avid coffee drinker. Many coffee lovers give up coffee for a few days (or weeks!) before their big races. I have not ever successfully gone long-term without my caffeine fix! That is why for the most part I don’t try the week prior cut back on caffeine intake. I don’t want to feel even more sluggish during taper than normal. However, if like me, you consume caffeine regularly before runs, the boost will not be as powerful as it would be if you abstained and lowered your tolerance. If you are an occasional caffeine consumer, congratulations! You get a slightly bigger boost on race day without enduring headaches and obscene crankiness for a few days before your big race! For me those withdrawal effects aren’t worth any extra boost.
Race Morning: Wake up and Get Going
Race morning I always wake up 3 hours before the event and the first thing I do is have coffee (with my pre race hydration and breakfast) to wake up my system and get things moving! I have this pretty much down to an art now and have not had to make any pit-stops during my marathons since starting this habit. If coffee is too harsh try a morning tea, which is gentler on more sensitive stomachs.
Pre Race: Enhanced Fuel Burning
Twenty minutes before the race I have a bit of water and a caffeinated gel. I don’t do this for the alertness boost, but rather because caffeine has been shown to help your body burn fat. As you recall from our first Fight the Bonk post, burning fat is where it’s at to make it to the marathon finish line! Also, check this out: by consuming caffeine before the race I am making it easier for my body to digest and utilize the carbohydrates in the gels I take during the race. Win-win!
Race Time: Postpone Feelings of Fatigue
After that I have one more normal caffeinated gel at mile 6 and then I switch to double caffeine gels (Gu’s Roctane are my preferred brand). I doubt there is a real difference, but let me tell you the mind is a powerful thing and I very much look forward to that caffeinated boost while counting down the miles to my next gel! Studies show I’m not alone. Caffeinated athletes take longer to exercise to exhaustion than noncaffeinated athletes.
Post Race: Recover Quick
Post race I have often treated myself to a chai tea or a cold latte. Have caffeine with some post race carbs and it actually aids in your post race recovery!
I may be biased, but this is my method and I have successfully used it in the majority of my marathons. Hopefully some of these caffeine “tricks” can prove useful to you in your next marathon endeavor! What are your feelings on using caffeine for enhanced race performance?