How Does Caffeine Affect Your Cycling Performance?


Does caffeine improve your cycling performance? How much caffeine do you need and how much is too much? What can you do to maximize the performance benefits that you get from caffeine consumption?

These are the questions that I’ll be answering in this blog post by taking a look at the science behind it.

Studies show that there is moderate evidence to support coffee as an organic aid to help improve performance whilst biking. If your go-to source of caffeine is a morning coffee like myself this appears to be an effective strategy.

Cyclists are big on caffeine but the way in which you consume it, how much you consume and what you consume it with can all have an impact on how it affects your performance.

I’ll also talk about my favourite way to get caffeinated which is drinking coffee and whether or not this is actually the best way to use caffeine to improve your cycling performance.

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Coffee consumption is almost universal among cyclists and beyond that a lot of the gels and drink mixes that cyclists consume also contain caffeine and with good reason too.

Is caffeine good for cycling?

Caffeine is one of the few competition legal substances that has strong evidence to support it as a performance enhancer. 3 to 4 cups could improve your mean power up to 790 watts.

For example this study found on Taylor and Francis Online studies caffeine’s effects on perceptual responses and power output during high intensity cycling had the cyclists consumed 5 milligrams per kilogram body weight of caffeine or a placebo before ramp tested to measure maximal power output.

I know what your thinking, another one of these blog posts where I just quote studies the whole time but bare with me because the facts are in the science

Depending on your body size 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight of caffeine is roughly 3 to 4 cups of coffee worth.

What they found was that when subjects had the caffeine, their mean power increased from 750 to 794 watts in a 1-minute all-out effort and during the constant rate portion of the test, rate of perceived exertion was lower.

One minute is obviously a very short effort but the evidence caffeine improves longer endurance performance is actually even stronger.

This meta-analysis found on Human Kinetics Journals on the effect of caffeine ingestion on exercise testing looked at 40 different double-blind studies and came to the conclusion that caffeine consumption significantly improved endurance exercise test outcomes even more so than graded or short-term exercise and there is evidence to suggest that caffeine consumption may help spare glycogen use, leading to increased endurance.

This probably isn’t too much of a surprise of course a substance used to wake you up is probably going to give you an edge during hard physical activity as well.

However not everyone reacts to caffeine the same way and caffeine may not benefit everyone who uses it. This may be because there’s a genetic component to caffeine response.

This study found on Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise on caffeine the CYP one a two genotype and endurance athletes had subjects complete time trials with zero, two or four milligrams per kilogram body weight of caffeine.

If you just look at the overall results of the test it appears the caffeine improved performance. As the dose goes up the time to finish decreases meaning subjects were going faster.

However when you break the subjects down by genotype a different trend emerges.

Those with the AA genotype which are fast metabolizers of caffeine showed improvement as the dose increased. Those with the AC genotype saw almost no difference and interestingly enough those with the CC genotype actually had worse performances with caffeine.

People with the AC and CC genotype are slow metabolizers of caffeine. There are a higher proportion of fast metabolizers of caffeine in the population, which is why when you look at the group as a whole it looks like caffeine improves performance.

However caffeine won’t improve performance for everyone and this may take experimentation to see if this is the case for you or you can get a DNA test to see if you’re a fast caffeine metabolizer or not.

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How much caffeine do you need when cycling?

With all the information found above let’s get into how much caffeine you need to see benefits and how much is too much.

You don’t need as much as you think you do! Just two cups of coffee is all as you need to help improve the performance whilst cycling. Too much regular intake of caffeine can have the adverse effect .

This study found on Taylor & Francis Online on the effect of different dosages of caffeine on endurance performance tested subjects cycling endurance after consuming a placebo 5, 9 or 13 milligrams per kilogram body weight of caffeine.

Remember that 5 milligrams per kilogram is roughly 3 to 4 cups of coffee worth, so in that 13 milligrams per kilogram condition subjects probably weren’t even able to hold a cup of coffee steady at that point.

What the study found was that caffeine did improve performance over the placebo but the dose didn’t seem to matter, times were almost the same across all three doses

This study found on Thieme came to the same conclusion when testing subjects cycling performance after consuming a placebo, 3 milligrams per kilogram or 6 milligrams per kilogram of caffeine. Caffeine helped but there wasn’t a statistically significant difference between 3 & 6 milligrams per kilogram.

This review found on The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research on caffeine and sports specific endurance performance suggests a dose of 3 to 6 milligrams per kilogram body weight of caffeine.

Two cups of coffee worth is likely all you need and keep in mind too that a lot of the gels drink mixes and energy drinks that cyclists consume while riding also contain caffeine.

Going on a long ride where you consumed a gel with 60 milligrams of caffeine in it every 45 minutes, plus a couple cups of coffee that morning, plus stopping for a coke half way through and you’re way over the point at which caffeine is beneficial.

There is good reason to limit your daily caffeine consumption. Just like with anything your body gets used to caffeine, meaning that if you’re a daily caffeine consumer it won’t have as big an effect on you when you really need it, like during a hard workout or a race.

These are the energy bars I use whilst out on a long bike ride. There called CLIF Bars and I get them from Amazon. You can take a look at them here

Back to the review on caffeine and sports specific endurance performance they stated that abstaining from caffeine at least seven days before use will give the greatest chance of optimizing the ergogenic effect.

Many athletes will choose to go without caffeine the week before an event so that it’ll have a greater effect on race day.

Some people I know never consume caffeine unless their doing a hard workout or racing. I know as a cyclist this may seem sacrilegious, however doing it this way means that their not dependent on it to feel awake and when they do take it it has a bigger effect on them. Please note this this probably won’t work for everyone.

Do I take caffeine before, during or after cycling?

Is it better to take caffeine before or during a ride or does it not matter?

Whether you prefer to caffeinate before your ride or during your ride, many studies have demonstrated that it doesn’t seem to matter when it is consumed when it comes to how caffeine affects your performance.

This study found on Journal of Applied Physiology on different protocols of caffeine intake on endurance performance, tested just that by having subjects complete two hours of riding, followed by a time trial after consuming six milligrams per kilogram of caffeine one hour before the test, one milligram per kilogram of caffeine every 20 minutes six times during the test, a coke at the end of the test before the TT which obviously contains caffeine, or a placebo.

What they found was that again caffeine improved performance, however the timing didn’t make a difference.

Should I take both caffeine and supplements?

When it comes to taking caffeine alongside other supplements that are meant to improve performance, what you’ll find is that their effects often aren’t additive.

Meaning for example if caffeine were to give you a 2% improvement and the other supplement where to give you a 2% improvement, you wouldn’t see a 4% improvement from taking both of them at the same time. In fact you probably wouldn’t see much more than the 2% that the caffeine gives you.

To show you what I mean let’s take a look at combining caffeine with beetroot juice which is a known performance enhancer.

This study found on MDPI on the consumption of caffeine and beet juice on cycling performance had subjects consume caffeine, beet juice, caffeine and bee juice together, or nothing at all before a cycling time trial.

What they found was that caffeine improved performance and the addition of beet juice to the caffeine didn’t offer any further benefits. The review confirmed these findings stating that the effects of supplementation with beetroot juice, might not have a positive interaction with caffeine supplementation, mitigating the effects of beetroot juice intake on cardio respiratory performance.

While caffeinated beet juice sounds like the next big thing to be marketed towards cyclists as the holy grail of performance supplements, it probably wouldn’t improve performance much more than taking caffeine alone.

Beet juice isn’t the only supplement taking a hit when mixed with caffeine. The study found Human Kinetics Journals on the effects of caffeine and sodium bicarbonate on performance, tested subjects time-trial performance after taking caffeine, caffeine and sodium bicarbonate together or a placebo.

What they found was that when ingested individually, both caffeine and sodium bicarbonate enhanced high-intensity cycling time trial performance in trained cyclists, however the ergogenic effects of these two popular supplements was not additive, meaning that there was no further benefit from taking both of them at the same time.

It’s not safe to assume that you’re getting the full benefit from different performance aides when you combine them together. In fact there’s even evidence to show that caffeine has less of an effect when in the presence of carbohydrates.

Another review found on Human Kinetics Journals on carbohydrate and caffeine consumption and endurance, looked at studies that tested just caffeine consumption versus caffeine and carb consumption together.

They found that caffeine was beneficial when added to carbohydrates but not nearly as beneficial when added alone.

Essentially what this means is that if you’re consuming carbohydrates on your ride, which you should be doing to maximize your performance, caffeine will have less of an effect it.

Seems likely that we all have a physiological limit to how hard we can go and simply adding these performance aids on top of each other, can’t take you past that limit. You’re going to have to do this thing called training in order to do that.

If sodium bicarbonate, drinking beet juice, eating carbs and taking in caffeine all give you an extra five watts on their own then taking them altogether will not give you an extra twenty watts unfortunately.

Coffee before a morning bike ride

Let’s talk about one of the most popular forms of caffeine consumption, particularly among cyclists and that is drinking coffee.

If your go-to source of caffeine is a morning coffee then this appears to be an effective strategy. Just remember not to go overboard with it and drink something else before you ride like water.

Some believe that coffee mitigates the effects of caffeine and that it’s therefore not the best source of caffeine. Is this true or is it just another myth?

This study found on PLOS ONE comparing caffeine to coffee for endurance exercise had subjects consume caffeine, regular coffee, decaf coffee or a placebo before a cycling time trial.

What they found was that subjects improved just as much over the placebo and decaf condition, regardless of whether they drank coffee or straight caffeine.

The study found on Human Kinetics Journals tested taking caffeine with decaffeinated coffee to see if the addition of coffee would hinder performance and the good news is that they found that it did not decrease the ergogenic effects of the caffeine.

Finally another review on Human Kinetics Journals on coffee consumption and endurance performance, found significant improvement with coffee in five out of nine studies and concluded that there is moderate evidence supporting coffee as an organic aid.

As I said earlier If your go-to source of caffeine is a morning coffee then this does seem to be and it is for me an effective strategy and the claims about coffee dehydrating you don’t seem to hold up either, at least not enough to have a significant effect on your hydration status.

If you’ve got this far, thanks for reading and please check out these posts to find out more about the bike world.

The Warburton Family

Everything we write is tried and tested. We research everything before putting it out to the world. Thanks for reading :-)

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