A recent study from Psych-pharmacology links habitual dietary caffeine consumption to a higher pain tolerance. The study examined habitual caffeine drinkers and took them through a series of tests to check their sensitivity.
The results found that “that greater self-reported daily caffeine consumption was significantly associated with higher heat pain threshold.” Three different pain thresholds were examined, including heat pain tolerance, heat pain threshold and pressure pain threshold. The average amount of caffeine consumed across participants was 170 milligrams per day, which is roughly two cups of coffee.
Participants kept a self-reported diary of their daily caffeine consumption, which included coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks and pop. This study wasn’t specifically tailored to runners, but it’s not unreasonable to suggest that increased pain tolerance can improve performance, to some extent.
A 2012 study in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness supports these claims, suggesting that caffeine ingestion resulted in improved weightlifting repetitions, lowered muscle pain perception and enhanced muscular strength performance.
Caffeine use is personal and variable from runner to runner, and obviously there is such a thing as too much. But if you enjoy coffee, and you drink it regularly before a run or a race, you’re probably already getting some benefit. If you’re accustomed to using gels or chews during long training runs, many come spiked with caffeine, and because it is absorbed almost immediately, the benefits are available right away. Start with 25 mg if you’re not accustomed to it. Read labels to find out how much caffeine you’re getting (some products contain twice that amount.) Again, experimentation is key.