Never did I think that coffee would supplant Gatorade as a running essential. I've been consuming some form of coffee, whether it be espresso or drip, just before a run for what seems like years now. I figured it'd be a quick pick-me-up to get my mind in the right state. As it turns out, besides feeding my obvious caffeine dependency, it helps all sorts of brain functions associated with running.
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If you've ever looked at the supplements geared towards runners today, one ingredient always sticks out- caffeine. It's in everything from the GU gel packets to the Cliff Bar gummy snacks. There is apparently some science behind it. According to the knowledge I've acquired from many Runner's World magazines, whose knowledge was acquired from actual, practicing doctors and scientists, caffeine helps reduce our sensitivity to pain (think Excedrin and migraine relief). This is especially beneficial to long distance runners that have amassed large quantities of lactic acid build up in their muscles. There're also those cognitive benefits that are more commonly associated with caffeine like quicker decision-making and reaction time. Trust me, it's better to react quickly to the cars coming at you.
http://images.tonic.com/legacy_variable/82397-360-marine-corps-marathonjpg.jpg" width="360" height="274" title="Caffeine helped me finish this last year." alt="Caffeine helped me finish this last year." border="0" vspace="0" hspace="-1" />
With the good comes the bad... Coffee is a diuretic, which as you can imagine, causes problems while running. Although I haven't had any issues, those with greater sensitivity to caffeine and coffee might want to be aware of what could happen while running. Even if it doesn't operate as a diuretic in your system, it may still lead to an upset tummy, which can be far worse. I hedge against this by eating something before consuming any caffeinated substance (as an aside... Taco Bell is not a good idea before any run, let alone a caffeinated one). Finally, caffeine dehydrates you. The obvious solution is to drink some water, but if you're not feeling dehydrated just before your run, it's pretty easy to forget about this precaution.
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My workout routine always includes some caffeine intake. Even if I'm already jazzed for a run, I find that the added caffeine helps it feel more effortless. In the end, I'm a healthier person for it.