Coffee is inextricably linked to the cycling culture. For example, one large professional team owes half of its existence to a coffee brand (Trek-Segafredo), some riders have their very own coffee beans, and a short training ride is already referred to as a ‘coffee ride’. But there’s more. It turns out that one of the most important ingredients of this black gold—caffeine—has more impact on our bodies than many of us may know.
There are many fads in sports nutrition, many beverages and special formulas, but caffeine has been proven to have a positive effect on the human body. For example, caffeine can help with mental fatigue. Mental fatigue is a natural process, which normally gets worse during the day, and sports can speed up this process by making you feel even more tired. When this happens, your responsiveness can also decrease—which in combination with a sport like cycling may not have a happy ending. Caffeine however slows down the process of mental fatigue and ensures that you can stay alert on the road for longer.
In some sports, it is often difficult to compare the strength of different athletes. In cycling, however, strength can be often expressed in watts per kilogram (w/kg). You can monitor the number of watts that a rider pedals for one hour (the ‘FTP‘), divide it by a rider’s body weight, and then a number is determined. Where a very well-trained amateur will ride around 4.5w/kg, the world-tour performers can go up to 6.4w/kg. This number is influenced by two factors: strength and weight. The lower the weight, the higher the number will be at the same amount of force.
Caffeine accelerates fat-burning in the body—although there are some optimal conditions for this to happen. For example, the body will quickly opt for burning carbohydrates if they are available, as converting carbohydrates into energy is twice as efficient as converting fat; when little or no more carbohydrates are available, however, the body will only then switch to converting fat. So a quiet morning training on a cup of coffee and an empty stomach is a good way to lose some extra bulk. Or a long, extensive endurance ride—eh, sorry, coffee ride.
Enough is enough
Everyone’s body works differently and therefore reacts differently to caffeine. For example, some people struggle to get to sleep if they drink coffee at the end of the day. Others sleep like a baby, even when they have an espresso after dinner. This has partly to do with the speed of our metabolism, but habituation also plays a role: for someone who drinks five cups of coffee every day, the body will react less quickly to an extra cup of coffee. For this person, the positive effect of caffeine in sports will also be lower.
Where riders who drink a small amount of coffee needs 2-3mg/kg body weight, the regular coffee drinker needs up to 6mg/kg for the same positive effect. Although, more is not always better: above 6mg/kg can cause increased heart rate, restlessness, and other side effects. An average of 88mg of caffeine is contained in a cup of coffee. So start calculating!
Caffeine can also be taken in the form of powder, a tablet, or a gel, although we think that a cup of coffee allows a great opportunity to be social and tastes too good to replace with a boring caffeine tablet. So, are you still looking for nice coffee beans? Il Magistrale Cycling has a large stock of great tasting coffee beans. All types are linked to riders from the professional peloton, so it’s definitely worth it for the cyclists among us. Or as a gift. And with a little imagination, you can taste the character of the rider…