Here’s another area that I believe athletes way over think. There seems to be two major reactions to caffeine use in racing.

Under reaction and way over reaction…

I know, I know… Triathletes overreacting … who would have thought we would 😉

So what do we know a out caffeine?

It’s an ergogenic aid and used correctly it can genuinely enhance sports performance.


But I’m sorry with the good news, comes some bad.

Caffeine is NOT going to make you super human come race day. Not matter how much you want it too, how much you take in or if you stupidly abstain from it in the weeks leading up.

Sorry to break that to you.

Look caffeine is a whisper… It will not make up for lack of preparation. In fact I think more people experience negative effects from its use on race day.

Wait a minute. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE a caffeine hit – best administered from a signal origin espresso . No?

So much so that if I stupidly abstained from it for the weeks leading in or even race week it would do more damage, in fact studies have shown that measured increases in performance during a cycle test to exhaustion after ingesting caffeine were found to be consistent whether they continued with their existing caffeine use, or abstained for a period before the test.

There is NO reason to abstain and I believe by abstaining you negate any caffeine benefits you get by the amount of stress you put yourself in. Those who drink coffee regularly (that would be me) would end up with headaches combined with mental fatigue and an inability to concentrate with elimination of coffee. This is due to the increase in adenosine activity in the central nervous system (CNS).

Huh.. well I don’t really want to go into the nitty gritty of the effects of caffeine on the CNS and where caffeine binds to and blocks proteins in the CNS called adenosine receptors. Basically caffeine reduces the effects that adenosine molecules have on the CNS.. one being tiredness and another inhibition of neural activity.

Maybe for another time…

For now though I’m not going to cause unwanted stress from something that hasn’t be proven to give me a benefit and I’ don’t see a reason to deal with headaches etc

Ok lets get back to the problems of usage in a race.

Some is good therefore more must be better (sound familiar?)

Every nutrition company and his dog are putting caffeine into their products these days mainly because there are clear studies showing an increased oxidation rate when caffeine is mixed with glucose. The problem is they don’t know whether  or by how much caffeine-induced increased carbohydrate oxidation will actually improve endurance performance in real conditions. 

The reason WHY to be careful listening to hyped up nutritional companies marketing claims … because they like to take sound bites of info (the parts that sound good and can be marketed) and have typically come from a lab.

Your Ironman race is NOT in a lab, but real life non controlled conditions.

Then we are inundated with caffeine pills, no doz, motivators, the list goes on and that we should be ingesting these to have best performances.

And yes, I’m guilty as charged which is good for you. I have learned and can hopefully pass on the wisdom so you don’t screw your race because the load of caffeine was too much and screwed with your stomach among other processes.

Or the cocktail you had that got you fully loaded and gave such a hit that you treated the opening stages of the race like a sprint distance… Ask my wife and ex pro about that one. Led to a very long and humbling walk at IM Malaysia in 2007.

Like my rant about the carbo loading bullshit I believe athletes get too worked up about caffeine use. Just keep it simple man.

Remember when it comes to use n=1 and that means what works for me, might not for you.

The one thing is, if you intend on using caffeine in your race then I hope you have been practicing that day-in and day-out in training and seeing the effects/reactions.

What to do:

Black coffee when you get up… (That’s if you’re a coffee drinker) as its your routine and don’t fuck with the routine (studies show that the ergogenic effects of caffeine can be sustained for up to 6 hours after ingestion, so theres good potential to hold off until an hour before race start).

Then I recommend none until the late stages of the bike and only if you need a pep. Coke would do here. After that like my nutritional guidelines drip in small amounts. In reality, coke would do the trick here or gels that have caffeine in them (that you have tested in training) but you don’t want to and need to be ingesting caffeine all day. It will lead to problems.

All my best racing has been on simplicity in fuelling.

Here is my Ironman Melbourne Race Day routine:

Wake up: A glass of water, followed by my health tonic (60ml Gogi Juice from Freelife, 5g VitC, and a serve of Vital Greens mixed with water). Then I’ll have my black coffee. Since I’m not having breakfast and my health tonic doesn’t affect my blood sugar or insulin levels I don’t need to wake up 3+ hours in advance.

Yes, you read right. I will not be taking any breakfast before the race. I don’t need it. My muscles are as stocked as they’re going to be and the liver glycogen loses are negligible.

Then I sip on water only. 45mins out I’ll take a pre-emptive strike of electrolytes and continue to sip on water till about 20mins till race start. I’ll be in the water then warming up (yes you, need a good warm up).

Upon exiting the water the only thing I’ll have is some water to wash my mouth out.

Then I’m not going to be ingesting and calories until 15-20mins into the bike when my HR is settled and blood is going to my muscles. Remember we have plenty on-board. Then it’s drip, drip, drip all day.

As I have said numerous times and it’s the same with caffeine – the goal is to find the smallest amount of fuel that works for you to perform and not how much you can jamb down your throat. This advice is how you avoid unwanted side effects.

So for me my nutrition plan is simple.

4h worth of Hammer Perpeteum at 1.5 scoops/hr which gives me a little over 200 calories an hour. Then I’ll also consume 1 maybe 2 Hammer gels all dependant on feel. (I always carry a couple of extra and have some spare nutrition made up in special needs in the case I drop a bottle or something happens).

Electrolytes – I’m a super heavy sweater and have tested from not much to loads of electrolytes per hour. For me I have always done well on salt stick brand. 2 per hour on the bike and if it’s a hoot day this could increase with fluid needs.

Water – depending on conditions, I’ll sit around 500-600mL/hr of water on the bike. If it’s really hot and humid this increases (drip, drip, drip) but so does my electrolyte intake.

On the run. Very simply water, hammer gel, electrolytes and coke. As you have been going for quite a while now (even the fast guys) I believe absorbing calories gets harder for the stomach. So needs reduce significantly. I continue to drip feed and go on feel.

That’s it, nice and simple.

So don’t get caught up in the caffeine and other sports supplement hype. These are just whispers and if you haven been consistent with the things that scream … all these little things are not going to help.


P.S. Only 9 hours left on Mack’s 2nd Birthday Bonanza to save 50% on my Ironman success plans, and the pre-order special of the TS Ultimate Shake Guide. You also go into the draw to win a $995 Vitamix.