Coffee. We know some of us love a pre-run energy boost, while others fear the effects it may have when combined with exercise. We talk to Alex Higham, co-founder of Exhale Coffee, to find out once and for all if coffee can improve our running PB
The science of coffee
Studies have proven caffeine to be one of the few legal ergogenic aids to sports performance. What does that mean? It can ‘enhance energy production, use or recovery and provide athletes with a competitive advantage’. And that advantage can be significant: two meta-analyses show that you can get an impressive 11-12% performance boost from caffeine.
But why? Here’s what the science says. Studies have shown that caffeine could stimulate the central nervous system, as well as increase the secretion of everyone’s favourite ‘feel-good’ chemical, endorphins, resulting in decreased sensitivity to pain and a lower perception of exertion during exercise. That means you can keep going for longer before you feel tired. It could also potentially produce more sustainable and forceful muscle contractions.
What about decaf?
Some of us can’t tolerate caffeine so well, or might find that it encourages the dreaded runner’s trots. But, don’t fret – there are still plenty of performance-enhancing benefits to a cup of decaf. “Coffee’s got an incredible array of polyphenols,” says Dr Rupy, NHS Medical Doctor and Exhale Advisor. Great – but what are those exactly?
Polyphenols are plant-based phytochemicals present in a lot of fruits and veggies but your largest dietary source is… you guessed it, coffee. It contributes up to 66% of your total dietary intake, according to some studies. But how can they help you set a new PB? Well, polyphenols reduce the oxidative stress caused by exercise helping you to recover faster, as well as increase performance.
Side note: not all coffee is created equal, and the quantity and level of activity of polyphenols vary immensely from brand to brand when it comes to decaf coffee. At Exhale, we’re proud to be the only company globally who source and roast our coffee to maximise the number of polyphenols then test their activity.
How much coffee do I need?
Before you sprint off to down your bodyweight in coffee, listen up. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommend 3-6mg of caffeine per kg of bodyweight, 30-90 minutes prior to exercise to improve endurance exercise capacity. For the average* 70kg female, that would be 210mg to 420mg, which equates to roughly 3 to 6 espressos or 2 small cafetieres. So, a lot of coffee!
There is real variability in regard to how individuals respond to coffee, or caffeine, so I highly recommend experimenting within this range. There are so many variables at play, so it’s important to tailor your intake to your own perceived tolerance of caffeine. And never try out such a high quantity for the first time on the day of an event – that can be a disaster!
On race day, I will drink one small cafetiere of coffee around an hour before the race (because it’s slower to get metabolised and take effect), providing about 150mg of caffeine. Then closer to the race, around 20 mins before, I take a couple of caffeine pills (which are absorbed by the body much faster), adding an additional 150mg of caffeine. This pushes me up to 300mg in total. This is around 3.75x my bodyweight, which I have worked out is my personal optimum level through (a lot of!) trial and error in training.
Exhale is a small business with big ambition to promote health, sustainability and fairness in the coffee supply chain. We’re the only company in the world to source and roast coffee to both maximise the levels of polyphenols and measure their antioxidant power before packaging our product. Over and above this we aim to offer a more complete package of health by only buying organically farmed coffee and then testing to make sure they’re free from mycotoxins, pesticides, toxins and heavy metals.
So, is Exhale the new PB juice? Well… anecdotally, yes. We’re seeing a lot of people set PBs with our coffee. Danny Easton, host of the Big Run podcast says, “I’ve had both Exhale Regular and Decaf coffees prior to a race and both have resulted in improved performance and importantly, PBs!”
You can find out more at exhalecoffee.com