Food Friday – The hidden powers of coffee

Food Friday – The hidden powers of coffee

In this Food Friday, we are going to answer the question whether the combination of cycling and coffee is actually a good idea.

The title is giving away the answer. Dietician Nancy van der Burg: “It is proven that caffeine has a positive effect on the performance of a cyclist. Caffeine improves focus and the RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion).” In other words: by drinking coffee you will be more focused while cycling and you will perceive your performance as less heavy.

"It is proven that caffeine has a positive effect on performance."

Dietician Nancy van der Burg

More focus and energy are clear advantages, but when should you drink that cup of coffee? According to Nancy van der Burg, the dietician of the team, the boost of caffeine lasts for about an hour. Therefore, it is perfectly fine to drink some coffee before a short ride, such as a time trial. For longer rides, our riders typically consume caffeine shortly before the finish and/or just before a tough climb for some extra focus. Our team prefers a caffeine gel over a cup of coffee, because we want to control the exact amount of caffeine our riders consume. The positive effects of caffeine kick in with a dose between 3 to 6 mg/kg.

After a race, a cup of coffee is not on the menu of the riders, but it can’t hurt either. The menu of our riders focusses on recovery with three main elements on the menu: carbohydrates, protein and rehydration. A cup of coffee next to it is perfectly fine, as long as it is not the main focus of the recovery meal(s). We do skip all caffeine in the late afternoon and evening, as we want to make sure that our riders get a good night sleep. Sufficient rest is also important for the recovery of our riders.

We can say that coffee, or actually caffeine, and cycling are an ideal combination after listing all those benefits. It helps cyclists on all levels to push a bit harder on a long climb or during a tough training ride. Still, it is important to test on an individual level whether the pro's outweigh the possible con's. The dose of caffeine to experiment with is in between the 3 to 6 mg/kg.

Some cyclists stop drinking coffee for a while in order to boost the caffeine effect during a race. Is such a temporary stop of caffeine a proven method? “Not necessarily,” says Nancy, “it depends on your sensitivity to caffeine.” If you are less sensitive to caffeine, a temporary stop can definitely increase the positive effect of caffeine during a race, but it can also cause gastrointestinal problems. A simple test to determine your sensitivity to caffeine: can you fall at sleep easily after drinking a cup of coffee around 8pm? If you can, you are less sensitive to the effects of caffeine and you might consider a temporary caffeine stop. Moreover, you can always experiment with the dose of caffeine (3 to 6 mg/kg) to benefit from the potential positive effects of caffeine.

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