Caffeine and the Endurance Athlete

Caffeine and the Endurance Athlete

Caffeine is considered an ergogenic aid in many sports – meaning it can be used to improve an athlete’s performance. Some ergogenic aids are not safe and may have harmful side effects (think steroids or human growth hormones), but caffeine, if used in the right dosage, has limited side effects and can be a beneficial part of an athlete’s training diet. It is the most widely studied performance aid and perhaps the most widely used, as well.

Many endurance athletes rely on caffeine to improve speed, agility, endurance and, interestingly enough, decrease the feeling of pain during intense bouts of exercise. It has also been shown to increase the release of free fatty acids in the blood, which, in turn, help the body utilize fat stores. Utilizing fat as a source of fuel increases the time one can exercise before becoming fatigued. In the long term, it will positively improve an athlete’s body composition by increasing lean muscle mass and decreasing fat stores. Caffeine can also benefit those who are susceptible to exercise-induced headaches by dilating blood vessels in the brain, allowing for increased blood flow.

I am one of those people who are at risk for post-exercise headaches, so I choose coffee as my source of caffeine intake. Typically, I drink one cup of coffee before my workout, along with a large glass of water so I don’t get dehydrated. I follow my workout with either another cup of coffee or a coffee smoothie, depending on the weather outside. If it’s cold, I drink hot coffee. In the summer time, I prefer a coffee smoothie. The following smoothie is a post-workout recovery smoothie, which provides protein for muscle recovery, simple sugars to replenish blood glucose stores, and caffeine to help prevent post-exercise headaches.

Vanilla Coffee Smoothie


¼ cup vanilla bean low-fat frozen yogurt

¼ cup soy milk

1 scoop whey protein powder

1 packet Starbucks Via – Italian roast

¼ cup crushed ice (optional)


Combine all ingredients into NutriBullet and blast!

Yes, it’s that easy!

Registered Dietitian, Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, Triathlon Coach

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