In today’s Journal Club we’ll check out a brand new paper examining caffeine, coffee, and riding a bike as fast as you can. Does coffee improve your cycling? Should you stop drinking coffee in the lead-up to an important event in order to boost your caffeine sensitivity and performance on race day? Let’s find out.
Clarke, N.D. and D.L. Richardson, Habitual Caffeine Consumption Does Not Affect the Ergogenicity of Coffee Ingestion During a 5 km Cycling Time Trial. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 2020: p. 1-8.
Before we cover a few highlights from the study, let’s start with a bit of context.
We’ve covered how coffee can boost your cycling performance in a previous post. You can check out that in-depth article by clicking on this link.
Here’s a quick summary:
- Caffeine will probably boost your cycling performance.
- Coffee seems to work just as well as pure caffeine.
- Classic research suggests that in order to get a full boost from caffeine on race day, you might need to back off your coffee habit for a few days before a race or event.
- More recent research suggests that you don’t need to back off drinking coffee in order to receive a performance boost on race day. That’s where the current study comes in.
Let’s take a look at the current study design.
1. Researchers evaluated habitual caffeine intake from participants
Participants separated into “high” and “low” caffeine groups
2. Participants consumed caffeinated coffee or placebo before 5k TT
Participants drank coffee 60m prior to a 5k TT
3. Researchers observed the performance impact and crunched the numbers
Reseachers sought to examine the impact of caffeine habituation on TT performance
Now that we have a basic overview of the study design, let’s jump in for further details.
Q – We know that caffeine improves exercise performance, why the need for another caffeine study?
Previous caffeine research suggests that in order to get a full performance boost from caffeine, a cyclist would need to stop consuming coffee a handful of days prior to an event in order to be fully sensitized to the caffeine boost come race day.
This current study sought to reexamine whether or not being habituated (drinking it regularly) to caffeine, does in fact diminish cycling performance on a 5k TT when compared to cyclists who don’t regularly consume caffeine.
Q – How did researchers classify “low” and “high” caffeine users in the study?
Subjects were split into two groups. The “low” caffeine group consumed less than 3mg/kg of body weight a day while the “high” group consumed 6 or more mg/kg of caffeine per day.
As a point of reference, for a 160lb cyclist, 3mg/kg of caffeine translates to a little over a 12oz cup of typical coffee.
For the same athlete 6mg/kg would be about 2+ cups of coffee. You can check out a chart containing typical caffeine amounts found in various products in our previous article on coffee and cycling performance.
Q – Were there any performance differences between the high and low caffeine groups?
Not really. Compared to a placebo, the “low” caffeine group improved their TT by about 9 seconds while the “high” caffeine improved by about 8 seconds.
Q – What can I infer from the findings in this study?
This study suggests that there probably isn’t any benefit from backing off your coffee habit in the days leading up to an important race or event. You can keep pouring that beautiful cup of joe on a daily basis and have confidence you’ll still get a speed boost if you drink enough coffee about 60m before your start on race day.
Q – Any other details from this study that I should be aware of?
Even though there were no significant differences between the “low” and “high” caffeine groups, it’s important to remember that these results come from a comparison of group mean differences.
That is to say, researchers combined the responses to caffeine within a group, divide by the total number of participants in that group, then arrive at an average (mean).
While comparing “performance means” between a low and high caffeine group gives us a “big picture” perspective on caffeine habituation and cycling performance, it can hide individual differences within each group. The graphic below from the study helps to highlight this fact.
That’s a long way of saying your response to caffeine might be different. There’s a chance that backing off your coffee intake in the days before an event, then drinking a few cups 60m before your start time might be a better strategy to maximize the benefit of caffeine.
The best way to know for sure is to run your own test. Try experimenting with at least 2 cups of coffee about 60 minutes before a threshold level workout. How did your legs feel? How did your RPE and power output match up to a similar workout without the coffee boost? Understanding your individual response to caffeine is the surest way to dial in your caffeine strategy.
- Clarke, N.D. and D.L. Richardson, Habitual Caffeine Consumption Does Not Affect the Ergogenicity of Coffee Ingestion During a 5 km Cycling Time Trial. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 2020: p. 1-8.