Runners are always looking for an edge, be it high-tech shoes, pricey treadmills or fancy compression gear.
But the far less expensive option is situated right inside your kitchen cabinet.
That would be your supply of coffee, which probably more Americans drink than plain old water.
It’s because coffee is loaded with caffeine, a substance proven to jumpstart your day.
Or, when it comes to running, jumpstart your race.
Studies show that around 90 percent of our nation’s population drinks coffee – plus other caffeinated products such as tea or sports beverages like Red Bull or Monster – on a daily basis.
Other research reveals caffeine/coffee can improve running performance, perhaps upwards of 15 seconds in a 5K.
So, why shouldn’t all runners be gulping down cups of the stuff prior to a big competition?
Well, like a lot of things in life involving what you put in your body, the old line about “too much of a good thing’’ applies here.
Let’s start the debate by filling in a few details:
From 1984 to 2004, caffeine in high dosages was banned from national and international competition. But since then, reportedly 74 percent of athletes use caffeine in some form.
According to an article published on the www.foreverfitscience.com website, caffeine can “increase neurotransmitter release and the rate of muscle firing.’’ As a result, the perception of pain is decreased and allows people to exercise for a longer period of time.
Which explains why some elite runners can be seen gulping down a cup or two of java about an hour before a notable race.
The trick is knowing how much caffeine product to take and when to take it.
It’s a fact that too much coffee or the like can cause nausea, shaking and increased heart rate, aka, the “jitters.’’
Furthermore, according to foreverfitscience.com, caffeine may reduce production of something called erythropoietin, a hormone responsible for the production of red blood cells.
Why is that a big deal? Because with fewer blood cells, the body is unable to carry oxygen as efficiently.
On the flip side, an article posted on www.active.com explained why caffeine can have such a positive effect on performance.
“Caffeine has been found to delay fatigue during exercise by increasing the level of free fatty acids in the bloodstream and thereby boosting fat burning and conserving muscle glycogen (which is the limiting fuel source for muscle work),’’ the article said.
Many marathon runners swear by coffee because of the perceived energy it supplies, particularly in the closing stages of the 26.2-mile challenge.
As mentioned, caffeine has been shown to enhance your body’s use of fat as a fuel source, thereby conserving that precious glycogen.
The RunnersConnect website states: “In marathon racing, the conservation of glycogen is critical to performance over the last 10km of the race, or as we like to call it, the second half of the race.’’
Caffeine also enhances reaction time and improves neuromuscular coordination (how fast your brain can send a signal to your muscles to contract and relax).
In addition, improved neuromuscular coordination allows your leg muscles to fire faster and more forcefully, which means you’ll be more efficient. The bottom line is you can run faster with less effort.
Researchers have found that having a drink with caffeine rebuilds glycogen stores 66 percent more than a drink with just carbohydrates. That alone could justify using caffeine on a regular basis.
Best advice: If you plan on increasing your caffeine before a red-letter date race, try experimenting with amounts of coffee, tea, etc. prior to your daily workouts well in advance.
That will help prevent awkward moments like searching for a port-a-john halfway through the competition and thus possibly finishing with a better time.
Saturday, Dec. 12
Christmas City Races 5K, 9:15 a.m., Quakertown. Contact www.christmascityraces.com