Coffee and Cycling – Myths, Disadvantages and Benefits.

Coffee and Cycling – Myths, Disadvantages and Benefits.

For many cyclists, the perfect complement to a ride out is a caffeinated beverage. The most common of these is coffee, one of the most popular choices for professionals, cyclists and Americans everywhere.

But why do we have such a love affair with this liquidised bean? And are coffee and cycling a marriage made in heaven?

First, and foremost, a mid-ride coffee stop is a chance to encourage the social side of our sport. There’s only so many conversations you can have when out on the bike, and some of us need all the breath we can spare for those steep climbs! If you stop for a coffee not only do you get a chance to rest weary legs and catch your breath, but you also have the opportunity to have a chin wag about favourite rides, or your most recent gear upgrade.

However, there are several other reasons that a coffee could be beneficial, or even a hindrance, to your cycling progress. Let’s take a look at some of the common misconceptions first, before diving in with the pros and cons.

Myths and Misconceptions

  • Dehydration and Diuretic Effects – It’s widely believed that coffee has a dehydrating effect on the body, predominantly because ‘it makes you pee more’. However, studies have shown that a moderate coffee intake – one cup in the morning say – has no more effect than one cup of water in the same period. Common sense dictates that the more you drink, the more you’re going to need the loo. Bare this in mind when out on the bike, as you don’t want to be the one holding the others up for your fourth loo break of the ride.
  • Coffee and Cancer – It’s been suggested that coffee can be related to cancer, but what hasn’t been these days? Thanks to studies in Norway and Hawaii, it transpires that regular coffee and tea intake doesn’t increase your chances of being diagnosed with cancer. Everything in moderation, however – eight cups of coffee a day will not be doing your body any good.

Disadvantage of Coffee on Your Cycling

  • Coffee crash – You know that feeling when you had your last coffee a few hours ago and now you feel more tired than you were before. This is because initially, the caffeine stimulates a dopamine and adrenaline release, so when this first hit subsides you’re left with a debt. Bare this in mind if going out on long rides.
  • The body adjusts – As with any drug, the more regularly you take it, the more your body adjusts to consumption. This is why you find yourself drinking more to notice the same wakefulness as before. It’s important to control your caffeine intake, and save it for when truly necessary. If you don’t think you need a coffee, don’t have one – you could go for a decaf alternative instead.
  • Calories – This depends on your preferred coffee incarnation. A black coffee without sugar is next to nothing on calorie intake, whereas a latte from Starbucks can be as much as 190 calories. However, you might end up being appreciative of those extra bits of energy for that steep hill climb coming up.
  • Timing – Making sure you have your timing right for avoiding a coffee dive, and feeling the performance benefits of a pre-cycle coffee can be difficult. It’s thought that the greatest advantages of coffee are felt in the first hour.

Advantages of Coffee and Cycling

  • Can increase performance – It’s been scientifically proven that caffeine can boost performance in athletes. This applies to those who consume little or no caffeine to people who consume at least two cups a day. For those seeking that ergogenic edge over their competition, a coffee could be just the ticket. It’s thought that performance can be improved by 3-5{9b4a2c8832b2482ca7eb937f6bfa363e1f3f7cb05e1b42927da41c9eadde8c32}, however, training improves performance by upwards of 50{9b4a2c8832b2482ca7eb937f6bfa363e1f3f7cb05e1b42927da41c9eadde8c32} – so prioritise!
  • Energy boost – Beyond the performance aspect, coffee can make you feel sharper and more alert, which can be of great benefit in a sport such as cycling. Especially when you might be feeling a bit groggy in the morning, a cup of coffee can set you up for the ride ahead.
  • Excuse for a break – Let’s not forget that it can get pretty tiring out on that bike. A short break can give the legs some much-needed respite, as well as give you the chance to have a proper chinwag with your ride companions. This is also great when out on a new route, it gives you a chance to stop off in a different place and maybe take in some scenery. By doing a bit of research on where your next ride is taking place, you can find some fantastic hidden gems for a mid-cycle refreshment. Take a look at this list The Birmingham Mail have put together on great spots around our second city.

How Should You Approach Coffee and Cycling?

We’ve weighed up the advantages and disadvantages that coffee can bring you on your ride outs, but, ultimately, you know what works best for you. If you enjoy drinking coffee on your rides then have one. The whole reason we like cycling is because it’s a good crack, and sociable too. If you feel you gain something above and beyond enjoyment that’s a bonus.

Understandably you might want to take stock of how much caffeine you’re consuming in a professional or competitive event. But if you’re planning caffeine intake based on maximising its performance enhancing efficiency on a social ride, it’s likely that you’re the nauseating fun-sap of the cycle club that the others try and avoid conversation with.