If you're like me, and I'm not really sure how many of you there are out there, one of my favorite pleasures following a really long run is a well crafted, high-octane quad latte. And while I've often felt these were wonderful dabbles in excess that did nothing more than reveal my frailties as an athlete -- why else would I need such an energy boost except that I can't handle the distance? -- it turns out they may be exactly what my body needs.
A small but compelling study that came out this summer (and that I read about recently in a column by Monique Ryan in VeloNews) found that a big bolus of caffeine after glycogen-draining exercise can significantly increase the rate at which glycogen stores are restocked in the hours after exercise. Basically, it seems that caffeine can keep the machinery of glucose uptake into muscles well greased over time in the trained athlete.
The study took seven cyclists and had them ride until exhaustion on two separate occasions, about ten days apart. On one of the occasions, they were given standard recovery foods (bars, sports drinks, gels) along with caffeine. On the other occasion, they were just given the foods -- no caffeine. Muscle biopsies afterward revealed that after four hours, the athletes in the caffeine group packed away about a third more glycogen than those in the no-caffeine group. On top of this, the athletes on caffeine had the highest rate of glycogen synthesis ever reported under free-living conditions.
Anyone looking at back-to-back big runs should stand up, take note, and possibly invest in a nice espresso maker.
The one stopper to all of this is the level of caffeine the athletes took in. It was pretty big -- about 560 mg for a 155 pound athlete -- but not extraordinary. A "tall" 12 ounce Starbucks drip has 260 mg. Get a refill and you're pretty much there. How about that quad (four espresso shot) latte? Pretty close, depending on the mix of beans. A Starbucks quad would only be about 300 mg, but some blends can deliver more than two and half times that.
Of course, every athlete's different and caveat, caveat, caveat, but at a minimum, if you enjoy a little caffeine rush after those long runs, it seems there's one more good reason to keep up with it. Cheers.