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Caffeine! Dietitian and runner, Mel Sher, explains the benefit for runners.

“A good day starts with a positive attitude and a great cup of coffee”

“I’m not a morning person, I’m a coffee person”

“Coffee – because anger management is too expensive”

All good quotes and memes have to do with coffee – and that’s probably because we all love a nice, steaming-hot cuppa! Whether you drink your coffee to get you going in the morning, or if your meeting your friend for an afternoon catch up, there’s nothing like the aroma of those coffee beans! 

And let’s be honest – we only really run so we can have our coffee afterwards (Kidding – Kind of!) 

But how much caffeine is really safe?

If you rely on caffeine to wake you up and keep you going, or give you a boost mid-afternoon, you aren’t alone. Caffeine is used daily by millions of people to increase wakefulness, alleviate fatigue, and improve concentration and focus. However, if you’re experiencing insomnia, nervousness, elevated heart rate and other such effects, you’re probably over-doing it a bit! (And yes, I’d suggest you cut back on your caffeine intake).

Part 1: So how much is too much?

Scientifically speaking, up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. That’s roughly the amount of caffeine in four cups of brewed coffee.

The image below shows the average amount of caffeine in popular beverages:

So whilst the recommendation says that 4 cups of caffeinated coffee per day should be O.K., remember that caffeine is also present in regular teas and green tea, coke and cold drinks, diet cold drinks, energy drinks, chocolates, certain ice creams, decaf coffee (yes – there may be a small amount of caffeine in decaf coffee), and certain medications, amongst others. And for us runners, caffeine is found in some energy gels and sports supplements (Note: Different products and flavours contain varying levels of caffeine so always be sure to check the label. On average, sports products contain between 25-100mg caffeine per serving)

So your dietitian’s recommendation: Whilst 4 cups of coffee per day should be safe, I would aim for a maximum 2-3 cups per day, especially if you are consuming caffeine from other sources, like teas, chocolates and sports supplements.

 Part 2: Is caffeine better to drink before or after a morning run?

My answer: Both!

A small amount of caffeine 30-60 minutes before you run may give you the boost you need to ‘get-going’ in the morning and get out the door! Science has also shown that caffeine may have a positive effect on speed and endurance. A cup of coffee or tea, or even an energy gel, may do the trick without making you feel too jittery. However, this takes practice and patience! It may take a few trials for you to get your caffeine intake timing right, so you aren’t just running to the bathroom!

Although you won’t get the same performance benefits if you drink coffee after the run, it might help you feel alert for the rest of the day ahead. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a nice hot cuppa with your running buddies after your morning run!

Overall, just be wise with your caffeine intake! There’s no harm or shame in enjoying that caffeine kick! But if you’re very sensitive to caffeine, or if you’re starting to feel negative side effects such as heart palpitations, I would advise that you cut-back on your daily intake. 

I leave you with one more quote before I go:

“Coffee doesn’t ask silly questions, coffee understands”

 

Melanie is currently practicing as an associate dietitian at Nutritional Solutions, which is based at the Centre for Advanced Medicine, 12 Scott Street, Waverley, and at the Daisy Office Park, 135 Daisy Street, Sandton.

 

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