Does a caffeine boost your cycling training performance or is it all just psychological?
We’ve pulled together a few studies below to give you the low-down on your morning brew.
Cycling training and caffeine?
It’s well known that caffeine can stimulate the brain and perk you up, but what about the effect on your muscles? Over in Spain, scientists studied the effects of pure caffeine on physical performance, by experimenting on amateur cyclists at the University of Alicante. In the tests, subjects were given caffeine gels 70 minutes before starting a cycling endurance test and their performance tracked.
The endurance tests consisted of riding steadily for an hour at about 70% of their VO2 maximum, the maximum volume of oxygen that an athlete can use in millilitres per kilogram of body weight per minute (ml/kg/min), with a final all-out pedalling effort until the subjects reached physical exhaustion and stopped.
Perhaps unsurprising, the results showed that test subjects who consumed caffeine performed significantly better than others who were given smaller doses, a placebo or no gel at all. However, subjects who were given 0.7mg per kg of bodyweight managed to ride much longer than the rest of the group (for a rider at 80kg/13st/180lbs it’s the equivalent to about 1 cup of coffee). Those cyclists receiving 0.2mg of caffeine per kg of body weight showed no improvement compared to the non-dosed and placebo counterparts.
It’s not just in the Spanish lab where the results showed markedly improved performance after caffeine consumption. In a study by Birmingham University, over a 45 minute time trial, just 0.5mg per kg of body weight was enough to give riders an advantage. That’s half a cup of instant coffee! So, enjoying an energy drink or cup of coffee could definitely help your performance.
The tests show that the medium of caffeine ingestion is irrelevant, just as long as it is done around one hour before the physical activity. Just get the kettle on before your ride!
The optimal caffeine intake to body weight ratio
If you know your weight (you road cyclists will!) just multiply your kgs by 0.5 to see how much caffeine you need to get your internal motors running. As a rule of thumb, an average cup of coffee contains about 95mg of caffeine. Levels can vary though, as coffee beans don’t usually have a list of ingredients and can vary widely depending on the blend. Check out our guide to making the perfect coffee if you want some tips.
For those who grab a coffee to-go before their ride, take note: caffeine in beans can vary wildly between coffee chains too. A recent study by Glasgow University showed that an espresso in shop bought coffee be contain between 50mg and 300mg of caffeine! So don’t give yourself a heart attack by drinking more than you normall would at home! For context, the European Food Safety Authority does not recommend exceeding more than 400mg per day.
Caffeine levels in food and drink
- 1 cup of filter coffee: 140mg
- 1 cup of instant coffee: 100mg
- 1 cup of filter coffee: 140mg
- 1 cup of black tea: 75mg
- 1 can of cola: 40mg
- 1 can of energy drink: up to 80mg
- 50g bar of plain chocolate: up to 50mg
- 50g bar of milk chocolate: up to 25mg
So, basically, just drink a good strong cup to give yourself a boost. Caffeine is also contained in soft drinks and confectionery as listed above, so you could already be getting your hit elsewhere.