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.

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.

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.