According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), moderate caffeine consumption is between 200-400mg a day. Put this into the context of a cup: an instant coffee will have about 75mg of caffeine, a brewed coffee 100mg and a medium Americano from a shop closer to 225mg. Of course, coffee isn’t the only caffeinated beverage. A cup of tea has 50mg of the stuff, an energy drink or gel 25-50mg and a can of cola 32mg. Though the ICO only provides a guideline, excessive consumption of more than about 600mg of caffeine a day can lead to dependency, irritability, stomach upset, insomnia, nervousness and heart palpitations.
Use it well
A boost that finds the energy for a good training session a few times a week is fine, but if you need a big mug of mud or a quadruple espresso just to get out of bed then you should address why you’re so tired. Because caffeine is a stimulant and the effects last a long time (the half-life is nearly five hours), you may struggle to sleep with too much of it in your system. This could seriously damage your performance – sleep is extremely important for the recovery process and muscle adaptation.
Timing your intakes may end up making a difference. Caffeine by itself can promote fat metabolism and stores of muscle glycogen, so a black coffee before a fasted ride in the morning may work well. When combined with carbs, caffeine tends to promote carbohydrate metabolism at the expense of fat burning. So for a time-trial it’s wise to take a high-caffeine gel when you’re practically on the start line. For a sportive, save it for the final climb to metabolise the last of your glycogen stores.
Several studies have claimed that avoiding caffeine until just before a big race or event will intensify its impact. The accuracy of the research has been questioned, because if the participants had been big caffeine users in the past then they may have been suffering withdrawal symptoms that affected results. But it’s likely that if you aren’t using caffeine all day then the effect just before a race will be more noticeable. Feeling as though you’re getting more of a boost can bump up your confidence levels, even if it is mainly psychological.
Caffeine might seem like a wonder drug, but it’s also highly addictive. So if you’ve already got one too many vices in your life then why not try one of theses slightly healthier, less twitchy, alternatives.
- Siberian Ginseng: A great alternative to caffeine used in China and Russia to improve the immune system as well as boost energy.
- Green Tea: Preserving nutrients such as polyphenols and catechins, green tea is a popular uplifting drink and also aids metabolism.
- Ginkgo Biloba: A herbal extract used in Chinese medicine, the leaf from the ginkgo biloba tree increases blood flow to the brain, increasing alertness.
- Vitamin B12: This little vitamin plays a very important role in the function of the brain and it’s known for enhancing energy and mental clarity.
- Fresh fruit: For a natural energy boost nothing beats a good dose of fresh fruit or juice. The fructose contained in fruit will give you a sugary lift.
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