What Runners Need to Know About Coffee

Ashley Lauretta
by Ashley Lauretta
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What Runners Need to Know About Coffee

More and more, coffee and running go hand-in-hand in people’s minds. This is especially true as professional runners are dipping their toes into the world of artisan coffee. Recently, linden & true coffee came into the spotlight as it was formed by Desiree Linden, the female Boston Marathon winner, and her husband Ryan, as well as Ben and Sarah True. Additionally, professional trail runner Jax Mariash, founded STOKED Roasters, with a tasting room and roasterie in Hood River, Oregon, and espresso bar in Park City, Utah.

These athletes investing their time into developing their own roasts and blends shows caffeine can be an integral part of your training — if you know how it affects your body and your training.

COFFEE’S NOTED EFFECTS

A study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology in January 2014 noted that when it comes to what Americans drink, coffee is the largest contributor to our caffeine intake. Many people don’t start their morning without it — runners included — and while other cultures often consume their espresso and cappuccino after a meal or as an afternoon pick-me-up, Americans are known to reach for a cup of brewed java or line up at Starbucks in the wee hours of the morning. What exactly is it doing to our bodies to jumpstart our day?

“Coffee can increase performance and focus in general, but just as the increase in adrenaline can have these effects, it can also cause sleep disruption and insomnia, as well as increase anxiety,” explains Amie Dworecki, CEO of Running with Life, a holistic running and wellness coach. “Some studies have shown that coffee can have a positive effect on blood sugar and cause the body to burn more fuel from fat. More recent studies have shown a minimal dehydration effect from coffee unlike previously believed, but anecdotally, for some, it can still increase diuresis.”

Dworecki adds that, as with anything, moderation is best, especially as coffee can negatively affect the gastrointestinal system of some people, causing upset stomach. Though it can cause distress in this area that, for runners would be a mid-run obstacle, there are noted performance benefits. In fact, a study published in The Journal of Food Science in April 2010 specifically mentions benefits to physical performance, such as and increase in endurance levels, decrease in fatigue and even links to weight loss.

FINDING THE RIGHT BLEND

With so many blends and creamers and ways to consume coffee, how do you know which is right for you? And is there a ‘right way’ for runners to drink it? The short answer to these questions is this: Everyone’s preferences will be different.

“I always say we are an experiment of one,” remarks Dworecki. “It really takes some testing to see what works best for the individual runner.”

When it comes to the type of roast and coffee beans, the taste preferences of the drinker are what comes into play. You’ll find different flavors and caffeine amounts from beans made in different regions, and it all comes down to trying different types. For example, Mariash notes that the lighter the roast is, the more flavor and caffeine it contains.

Besides considering taste, she recommends taking into account how blends make you feel and noting any effects on your body. Keeping track of this is a great way for runners to know what will work best with their stomach on a race day or before a particularly hard training run.

“If a stomach is sensitive to the acidity in coffee, it is recommended to have cold-brew coffee,” Mariash reveals. “It is a lot easier on the belly due to cutting out a majority of the acidity. A recommendation for some that have sensitive stomachs is to have some food with coffee. Creamer and milk tends to be a feature for taste.”

FINDING YOUR SWEET SPOT

By experimenting and knowing how your body in particular reacts to coffee and caffeine, you can determine the best time to drink it during training. You may need to adjust and have your cup of joe after your morning run instead of before or make sure you drink it a few hours before the start of a race so you have time to digest.

At the same time, you may decide you don’t want to have coffee before your long runs so you don’t feel like it is a necessary part of your running routine.

“Some people do not enjoy feeling like they need to ‘rely’ on anything for performance (or even to function, if enough coffee is had for a long enough time),” acknowledges Dworecki. “For example, what if it is race day and the runner doesn’t have access to coffee? If desired, it should be part of a runner’s overall planning and strategy.”

If you are looking to make coffee part of your pre-run ritual, as Mariash does, you can get creative and use the time your coffee is brewing to warm up. She finds enjoying a cup of coffee before slipping on her running shoes is a great way to ease into the day and her workout.

Brewing my coffee is also a motivation to get into my strength routine; strength training is essential for ultra-running and even more so for stage racing,” Mariash reveals. “I have a habit to do the following strength routine when my French press brews: I do 100 air squats/lunges while the kettle brews, then 30 oblique side dips on each side. I pour the hot water in the press and then do 4 minutes of side shuffles with a band while the coffee brews. Then voila, you can enjoy coffee and know your daily stability exercises are complete.”

About the Author

Ashley Lauretta
Ashley Lauretta

Ashley is a journalist based in Austin, Texas. She is the assistant editor at LAVA and her work appears in The Atlantic, ELLE, GOOD Sports, espnW, VICE Sports, Health, Men’s Journal, Women’s Running and more. Find her on Twitter at @ashley_lauretta.

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