Coffee and cycling go hand in hand, with coffee culture booming both in and outside of the sport.
According to the British Coffee Association, the UK consumes 95 million cups a day – from espresso to Frappuccino – and is fast overtaking tea as the nation’s favourite beverage.
‘A ride without a café stop is like a bike without wheels’, a statement from Geraint Thomas which I couldn’t agree with more. One of the many things I found interesting in his book, The World of Cycling According to G, was how he talked about quitting caffeine 2-3 weeks before a big race. As someone looking for all the marginal gains he can get it got me thinking about why he might do this and how it could help me.
So, with Revolve24 just two weeks away, I’m quitting caffeine like G…but not for the first time!
Caffeine – the buzz
Caffeine is a natural stimulant, which has it’s biggest effect on our central nervous system, where it has the power to increase alertness and provide a much needed boost when you are tired.
It’s important to remember that we aren’t just talking coffee here, tea contains the same amount of caffeine as the black gold but, personally, I’m not sure you get the same satisfying buzz that comes from a really great coffee?
It’s that buzz that makes caffeine so useful in sport though – there have been many studies which have found that a jolt of caffeine can improve athletic endurance and reduce fatigue. A coffee taken up to 60minutes before a session can improve performances by 3-5%, but bear in mind that a proper training programme can add a 50% improvement.
Irrespective of the improvements and benefits, stopping mid ride for a coffee is just a great excuse for a break and a respite for weary legs, particularly when it offers the chance to indulge in some cake too.
Withdrawal – the buzz kill?
Stopping your daily caffeine fix will produce some pretty well known withdrawal symptoms – headaches, tiredness/fatigue, decreased alertness, decreased energy and difficulty concentrating. The severity of the symptoms will largely depend on your intake levels – as with any drug, the more regularly you take it, the more your body adjusts to consumption and the longer the withdrawal.
That said, there is some good news in that even the most severe symptoms should only last a week. The key to combatting these symptoms is to keep well hydrated throughout the day.
Knowing this, then why would you stop?
There is a huge range of positives from quitting caffeine;
Weight-loss – if you are a big latte drinker, you can easily take out around 100 calories per day by quitting your coffee habit. Even a Black Americano is 15 calories per cup, which in the grand scheme of things is nothing really but swap it for something else, like a banana or a herbal tea, and your body will reap the benefits.
Better quality sleep – once your body has adjusted to you removing the stimulant, you’ll quickly find your sleep quality improves. For athletes, quality sleep is a must as it enhances muscle recovery as well as all the other benefits like improved mood and reduced stress hormones.
It goes further with people suggesting they are more focussed, more productive and more energetic. White teeth, lower bloody pressure, the list goes on. So what’s not to like about all that?
So back to the original point of this blog, what’s my reason for quitting caffeine?
Simple! When I start to fatigue during the 24hr race that is Revovle24, the caffeine I do take will be like a thunderbolt to my legs, a supercharger that should see me through what will hopefully be 600km or more. I’ve done ‘quit and recharge’ routine now for a few big events and have found it to works really well.
For me it has two big benefits – having flushed the caffeine from your body, you just get a bigger, more effective hit when you do reintroduce it. Secondly, as someone who suffers from IBS caffeine is not really my friend, so two weeks off as part of my preparation for an event is helpful in preparing and protecting my stomach for the onslaught of carbohydrates, sugars and stress it’s likely to face.
So as I’ve eluded to, the next challenge coming in just under 2 weeks is virtual Revolve24. It’s a 24hr challenge, where participants ride 6 iconic motor racing circuits to see how many kilometres they can accumulate within the time. This is a Race Across America qualifying event and as such to meet the requirement I’ll need to ride over 600km within the 24hrs.
If you’ve not entered yet and fancy one of the 24hr, 12hr or 6hr challenges the use the code SPOKES10 to get 10% off your entry fee.
More importantly though, I’m continuing to support the Pace Centre and Action4Youth as part of my Road to RAAM ’22 – so I’d be grateful for any support you can, either sharing my posts or donating a few pounds.