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Race Fueling

Is It Necessary To Withdraw From Daily Coffee?

Do you need to withdraw from daily coffee to reap caffeine performance benefits?

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Do you need to withdraw from daily coffee to reap caffeine performance benefits?

Photo: Robert Murphy

Caffeine is an essential daily ritual for many triathletes. (There’s a reason training rides end at cafés and so many bike shops offer coffee!) And by now, there’s no denying the power of caffeine to boost performance in endurance athletes. This practice is well-supported with scientific studies showing that doses of 3–6 mg per kilogram (about 2–4 mg per pound) taken before or during endurance exercise makes you go faster.

But there’s still debate as to whether a daily coffee dampens your potential for caffeine to improve exercise performance. Australian researchers recently investigated this in the Journal of Sports Sciences. They had well-trained, regular coffee drinkers consume either a measured caffeine dose of 3 mg per kilogram or a placebo (caffeine withdrawal) for four days before a 60-minute cycling time trial.

On day five, the day of the time trial, subjects consumed either 3 mg per kilogram of caffeine or a placebo 90 minutes before starting, which created four groups: placebo-placebo, placebo-caffeine, caffeine-placebo, caffeine-caffeine. Performance time improved by 3 percent after acute caffeine ingested following a withdrawal and by 3.6 percent following no withdrawal. So whether or not subjects underwent a withdrawal period, they found that exercise performance was similarly improved by the pre-time trial caffeine dose.

The bottom line: It appears there is no need to “abstain” from caffeine in the lead-up to your next race. Good news for all the coffee drinkers!

Gregory Cox is a registered dietitian and has a master’s degree in sports nutrition.