How I Use Caffeine to Improve My Workout

Caffeine and a healthy breakfast help with training

I am very particular about my diet, especially when I’m actively training or on race days. I try to eat clean as much as possible and stick to lean proteins, although I totally admit to having a slice of pizza every now and again. When most people look at ways to improve their diet, they often consider trying to cut back on caffeine. It might surprise you to know that I’ve been doing the exact opposite—I look at caffeine as a key part of my workout and diet routine. I make espresso daily and look for opportunities to add caffeine into my training days.

What are the benefits of caffeine?
Caffeine has been shown to promote muscle fiber recruitment while giving you energy and decreasing muscle pain and fatigue. It’s shown meaningful performance improvement in endurance athletes, weightlifters, sprinters, and many other types of people engaged in sports activity. Caffeine also helps you improve your focus, making your workouts more effective, and it may help muscles burn more fat. All of that considered, doesn’t it almost sound like the Holy Grail of exercise?

Where do you get caffeine?

  • Coffee – This one is obvious. The average 6-ounce cup of coffee has 60-180 mg of caffeine, and espresso has 70-80mg per 1.5-ounce espresso shot. In addition to caffeine, coffee has lots of antioxidants that can decrease muscle damage from weightlifting.
  • Tea – A 5-ounce cup of coffee has 40-80 mg of caffeine plus antioxidants, too.
  • Soft drinks – A can of soda typically has 40-50 mg of caffeine. Stay away from diet versions that often have more sugar and artificial ingredients.
  • Caffeine capsules – Has 100-200 mg per pill

Look for opportunities to incorporate caffeine into your life in heathy ways. For instance, if you’re going to drink more coffee or espresso like I do, don’t load it up with cream and sugar—instead, use almond or coconut milk and cinnamon or maybe stevia. You can also add coffee into smoothies with other healthy ingredients.

Add coffee to your training regimen

What are the side effects?
Too much caffeine can make you jittery or contribute to feelings of anxiety. It’s also important to know that it can have a slightly diuretic effect, so it’s important to hydrate appropriately. Of course, if you are exercising or actively training for a race, you should be drinking plenty of water anyway.

It’s also important to keep in mind that caffeine can impact your sleep. Since you don’t want to be overtired ever—but especially while training because you can injure yourself—avoid drinking coffee or soda or otherwise taking caffeine within several hours of your bedtime.

How should I take it?
Most likely, you’re already taking caffeine in some for, so you probably don’t need much advice from me on this. Caffeine peaks in your bloodstream about 60-90 minutes after consumption, so it’s best to take it about 1-2 hours before working out.

Many studies show that the benefits of caffeine appear to be maxed out at around 200 mg (3 mg/kg of bodyweight). If you’re taking caffeine to help improve your performance, make sure not to overdo it beyond these guidelines, or you may do more damage than help in the long run.

Music or Not?


There’s always a bit of controversy about running with headphones. Over be years, I never really gave much of a thought to it, however a recent incident caused me to rethink my decision. Here’s my take on running with headphones.

A few months ago, I was running on a local trail. It was one of the last great weekend mornings before the winter snows arrive, but there were plenty of people out and about. I never gave it a second thought as I put on the headphones and settled into an easy 6-mile run.

I had no sense that things were amiss. I didn’t feel anyone stalking me. I didn’t hear anything. In short, nothing seemed out of place.

Suddenly, a tall man was next to me. As I ran, he put his arm around me. I jumped. I turned and looked. I could see his lips moving but heard absolutely nothing with my phones on.

It was my friend Micah from the Harriers running club. We’ve been pretty friendly over the years and hung out a few times. He wasn’t trying to scare me. He didn’t grab me. And he has no interest in me – he bats for the other team.

But if Micah could get so close without me realizing, was I leaving myself open to attack?

Safety vs Boredom
Like nearly everyone I know, I wear headphones to break up the boredom of long runs. I do fine without tunes for 3-4 miles, but longer runs can be a real chore.

Music motivates me. Carries me through. Gives me something else to think about other than all of the miles.

Wake-Up Call
That morning on the Lake County trail was a wake-up call for me. I said a prayer of thanks that it was Micah, and not someone else. He doesn’t realize how much he scarred me, although he’ll probably read this at some point (hi, Micah!).

Finding Zen
I’ve recently started going for longer runs without headphones. In the process, I’ve realized there is a beauty in the stillness. Listening to the rhythm of my own breath, rather than the music. Hearing the birds call in the trees above my head. There’s a peacefulness out there on the trail that I hadn’t realized existed because I was into my music.

In the future, I’ll be doing more runs without music.

How about you? Do you listen to music while running? Do you unsafe?

Why Join a Running Club (My Top 10 Reasons!)

running people

The more I run, the more I realize that I know nothing about running. As a sport, it’s one of the simplest and purest that exists. It’s just you and your body (and a good pair of running shoes). And despite the marketing claims of companies, you really don’t need any specialized gear.

However, to be really good (or even just to improve), it can’t be a solitary endeavor. We all love that moment in Forrest Gump as he runs through Monument Valley in Arizona and stops to look out on the beautiful vastness that it is the American Southwest. But the loneliness of the long distance runner is really a myth.

I’ll admit to being a social creature. I like to get together with my girlfriends and I love going out on weekends (who doesn’t?). Chicago is such a great city and there are so many activities to enjoy (or sometimes over-enjoy!).

I’ve enjoyed running for a long time, but my running never really improved when I viewed it as a purely individual endeavor. My times (such as they are), stayed stagnant.

One Sunday I was talking with one of my girlfriends over brunch. We were on our second (or maybe our third) glass of champagne and she suggested that we run together and call ourselves the Boozy Babes. We laughed. It was funny. I didn’t take her seriously. Until she called me the next day to make a date for a short 3.5 mile training run. We did it. The Boozy Babes were born, but in the process, I learned something: I needed to be around other runners.

About six months later, my girlfriend Heather and her husband moved to Northwest Indiana (shudder to think about it) and we don’t get together much anymore. The Boozy Babes are no more. But I realized I still needed the support of other runners. For the first time in my life, I sought out a running club.

Joining a running club is a bit like dating. There’s the stage of mild interest (online research). There’s going to your first run (the blind date). There’s the period of realizing you really like it (the tease). And then the moment you realize you’re hooked (pure love). I’ll admit, I lead with my heart on this one.

synching time for run

But if you’re the kind of person who needs logical arguments, here are a few of my own:

Why Join A Running Club

Accountability. There. I said it. Chicago winters suck. I really don’t like getting out there in the cold and doing longer runs. Joining a running team keeps me on track. I can’t skip a long-run day if there are other people who are counting on me to be there.

Knowledge. I’ve been running a while, but still have a lot to learn. I’m always picking up new tips on gear, diet and nutrition, and even non-running workouts/exercises from fellow club members.

Motivation. I’m not talking about the kind of motivation to get out there and run. I’m talking about the motivation to keep going on the longer runs. When you hit mile 16 on your big training runs before the marathon. How do you push on? Having other runners out there with you who know your goals can be critical to staying on track.

Support. We’ve all done long runs and carried our own water and power gels. What if you didn’t have to do that? What if the running club had water stations and cool-down sponges for you? It’s possible. Running clubs provide great logistical support in training for big races.

Mentoring. Now that I’ve been running with a couple of different clubs for a few years, I’ve graduated. I still seek out motivation and knowledge from the more experienced runners, but I get to share my passion with other, newer runners. Recently a few young single ladies joined our group and the Boozey Babes has been re-formed!

Logistics. I love traveling to races as part of a group. Rolling up with our matching shirts and feeling like part of the group. It’s also really nice to have someone else take over the driving!

Cross Training. I hate cross training. I hate going to the gym for weights. Having someone else to keep me accountable and work with me has been incredibly valuable.

Referrals. Last year when I had my foot injury, I really didn’t know who to turn to. Rather than just turn to the list of doctors from my insurance company, I got a referral from a fellow member of the running club who knew a doctor specializing in helping runners recover.

Making Friends. In this era of social media isolation, meeting real people can be a challenge. The members of my running club have become fast friends – both on the track and trail, as well as in other aspects of our lives. I love them.

Fun. Finally, if you are still asking why join a running club, the answer is: it’s fun.

Best Races in Chicago

Chicago with green river

Chicago—hands down—has some of the craziest and best races that are ideal for runners and marathoners who do not take themselves too seriously. While international races are great, it’s fun to have such wonderful events closer to home. Whether you are looking for a change of pace or are not up to marathon speed but still want to enjoy a fun race, here are Chicago’s best races that you can participate in:

Cupid’s Undie Run
The cold is worth dealing with to participate in the crazy fun Cupid’s Undie Run. Not only do you get to run around and experience Chicago in next to nothing, you do so in support of a worthy cause—to raise funds for the Children’s Tumor Foundation.

Hustle Up the Hancock
Every year, approximately 4,000 runners take part in this race to raise money and awareness for programs and research dedicated to lung disease. Runners have to contend with 94 flights of stairs but many do it with a smile and a spring in their step.

Shamrock Shuffle 8K
The Shamrock Shuffle is a unique course and a continued Chicago tradition that occurs every year during the St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The Shuffle is high energy and fun, and it’s surrounded by the St. Patrick’s Day spirit.

Ravenswood Run
Rather than settle for a traditional run in the street of Chicago, why not try something different with a neighborhood run through Ravenswood, which is one of the oldest and most famous neighborhoods in Chicago? At the end of the race, runners also get a pancake breakfast, which is a bonus.

Southwest Half Marathon
The Southwest Marathon is all inclusive as it encourages all runners to participate, from world famous runners to physically challenged athletes. People from all corners of the world attend this half marathon.

Chicago's bean

United Run for the Zoo
For lovers of animals, taking part in the United Run for the Zoo is a no-brainer. The marathon raises money so that the Lincoln Park Zoo can remain open and free to everyone all through the year.

Oktoberfest 5K
What could be better than a race that is topped up with German beer? The Octoberfest 5K is another famous themed race that encourages runners to show up in their finest Bavarian-themed consumes.

Santa Hustle Chicago 5k
Thousands of Santa enthusiasts and elf imposters dress up in their best Christmas gear to race through Chicago. The course is also characterized by candy, cookies, and music to get runners and spectators in the festive mood.

Chicago Monster Dash
This Halloween themed race is perfect for starting the holiday season on a fun but healthy note. At the end, wards are given for the best costume.

Chicago Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon
This annual race features live rock bands that entertain runners at every mile along the course. The streets are typically lined with spectators and dancers cheering on runners.

The 10 Most Beautiful Marathons in the World — My Bucket List

Big Sur, California, a great marathon destination

One of the things I’m really excited about as I train for my next marathon is that is gives me even more of an excuse to travel. There are so many great races with fun themes across the US and the world, and I plan to check out as many as I can. The most beautiful marathons in the world are typically extremely well organized and immaculately planned, too, which is a bonus. I’m already in dream planning mode even though I haven’t run a marathon yet and would need to save up for some of these. These races are often looked at as the

10 most beautiful marathons in the world, and they’re getting added to my bucket list:

Big Sur International Marathon
This is—by far—the world’s most attended marathon outside of a big city. Situated in California, the race tickets sell out quickly as it is a highlight of many marathoners’ bucket lists. I mean, just look at that view.

The Great Wall Marathon
The Great Wall Marathon offers runners a once-in-a-lifetime experience to tackle one of the world’s most celebrated historical landmarks. Not only do runners have to contend with the 5164 steps, but they also have to do so in hot humid weather. It’s a good thing it’s gorgeous.

Marathon de la Baie du Mont Saint-Michel
The Marathon de la Baie du Mont Saint-Michel is exceptional because runners can see the distance from the finish line to the start line. After your marathon, you can relax with a fine glass of French wine and treat yourself to mussels and oysters, which is what the region is famous for.

The Big Five Marathon in Limpopo
When you cross the finish line at The Big Five Marathon in Limpopo, South Africa, you will definitely feel accomplished and proud. The marathon is quite spectacular as there are often wild animals such as lions, hippos, and rhinos nearby in their wild habitat.

The Amazing Maasai Marathon
If you want to experience an African safari while running, this Kenya-based marathon is the best way to do it. Kenya is known all over the world for its long-distance runners, and the race is organized for a good cause for local education.

The Parthenon in Athens, Greece

Australian Outback Marathon
The Outback marathon is characterized by the bush, Australian fire trails, and sand dunes. The terrain is hard to tackle, which makes it one of the most challenging marathons in the world.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Maratona de Lisboa
If you love live music and running, then this marathon was created just for you. More than 30 live bands perform during the marathon in the coastal Europe city of Lisbon.

New York City Marathon
The New York Marathon is the most attended and most popular marathon in the world. More than 50,000 runners show up each year to run amidst the chaos of the Big Apple.

Athens Marathon
The Athens Marathon has a rich and beautiful history that allows 13,000 marathoners to follow in Pheidippides’ steps—the ancient Greek messenger that inspired the modern marathon. We’ll ignore the fact that the famous runner reportedly dropped dead when he reached his destination.

Standard Chartered Bangkok Marathon
The Bangkok marathon is perfect for budget marathoners because the city is inexpensive but has great views and wonderful culture to offer. Thailand, here I come!

What to Eat on Marathon Day

Cereal and bananas are great fuel for running

There is a golden rule that is being observed, and it was something that I have also adhered to in my running until recently. The rule says: do nothing different immediately before a marathon. The rule still stands true, but with a little twist.

One of the things I took into serious consideration when preparing for a marathon was eating the right foods. I don’t joke about my nutrition whether I’m going to run 5K, 10K, or a full marathon. I have always kept this in mind that the longer the race, the more significant the role of nutrition will be. This is why I’ve gone out of my way to map out an appropriate plan on what to eat on marathon race day.

During long-distance or endurance events, the body uses up carbohydrates. Fat can also be an excellent source of energy—though not as efficient as carbs—and can be used up during running as well. I had personally hit the wall during my training days when I used up my glycogen carbohydrate stores. My performance decreased drastically, and I had to fuel up before I could continue the marathon.
On marathon day, I always make sure that I eat the last meal about three to four hours before the start. But before then, I take a cup or two of coffee. This is a little trick I learned some time ago. I have discovered that there is no other meal more important than this one. I have also found (painfully) how eating the wrong food—by throwing together some last-minute carb bonanza or eating at the wrong time—can mess up the race.

I have always been skeptical when it comes to eating meals on marathon days. It wasn’t until I came across a veteran but retired runner that I found out why I need to fuel up on the D-Day. Eating the right meal—which, by the way, should be foods rich in carbs—was to fill up the glycogen in my liver after the overnight fast the previous evening. The meal should also contain some amount of protein-rich foods which will help in minimizing the breakdown of the muscles while stabilizing blood sugar at the same time. A dollop of fat will ensure that my fat burning capacity is optimized, thus making me feel full.

Therefore, the type of foods I consume on marathon race day must be easy to digest. These are the foods I consume just before I start a marathon:

  • Low-fiber or oatmeal cereals
  • Yogurt
  • Bananas
  • Juice
  • White bread and honey
  • Eggs

At times, I drink water when I feel thirsty, and on hot days, I add salt to my meals.

Although the amount of fluid you drink during a marathon varies by individual, I ensure that I drink several gallons. I also drink sports drinks to ensure that I don’t become too dehydrated which may lead to hyponatremia. I have also found that taking a few carbs during the race gives a boost to my endurance level, so I take sports drinks or energy gels at almost every aid station.

As you’ve read, you need to be very careful on what you eat before a marathon, the above foods listed are based on my experience and they actually helped me function quite effectively. So, if you’ve been wondering what foods are really right to eat before a marathon, I recommend you pick from the list above.

Why Running is the Perfect Sport

In life, one of the most important things we can do is stay in shape. The better shape we are in, broadly speaking, the higher quality of life (and longer lasting life) we will live. The problem that most of us find is that exercise is dull, and most sports are challenging enough to dissuade us from playing. I’ve been there myself—trying to work out the best way to stay in shape.

I suck at soccer, I’m too short for basketball, and I’m definitely not a good fighter, so the majority of sports I like, I cannot do. If you are in the same position, I have one simple alternative: running.

Running is the single most powerful sport for me, and I think it could be the same for you. What makes running the perfect sport, though? Why do I recommend it to anyone who asks me how to keep in shape to get into running?

Why is Running the Perfect Sport?

  • Well, for one, the only equipment you need is comfy clothing, a pair of bouncy running shoes, some terrain, and a pair of legs. If you have all of this, you can go out running more or less whenever you like.
  • While some might tell you that you need your smart watch and all the assets and analysis in the world, I don’t agree. Sure, you can make it even more professional and competitively intensive by treating running this way—but to start off with, just enjoy getting into the habit of going for a run first and foremost!
  • Running isn’t like other sports, either, where you need to stop at a decent age. You can run with just about any kind of body—prosthetics included—and you can enjoy running well into your senior years. Sure, you’ll slow down—I’m sure I will, too—but there is no limit as to when you can or cannot keep running. The days of being seen as a ‘youngster’ sport is long gone!
  • This removes that fear of contact sport doing damage that you cannot afford. I can’t afford to break my leg playing soccer and miss months of work, but I can afford to take the comparatively minimal risk of being hurt when out and about running. Any injuries sustained are often minor and easily avoided with a touch of extra concentration and situational awareness.
  • You’ll likely sleep better, you’ll find it easy to run with others and maintain social contact and you can easily competitive without it becoming petty or childish. As such, running is the perfect place to start for anyone looking to make the most of their needs for fitness.

I was lucky enough to get into running and soon found it to be the ideal sport for me. It never made me feel awful for not being pro-level good, and it’s intense enough to help me and my group of friends go out running together, have a good time, and feel the benefit of all that extra exercise we were doing.

If you are looking for a sport that you can enjoy, then, it’s running – believe me!