Runners Are Being Urged to Limit Caffeine Consumption

By , SparkPeople Blogger
A few years ago you could pick up almost any running or fitness magazine and read about the benefits of consuming caffeine prior to running or exercising. Runners, just like many of you, like to take a swig of their favorite caffeinated beverage before they leave for their morning run. In fact, it's not too uncommon to see runners just before a race downing an extra tall cup of joe before the horn blows. After all, studies have shown that drinking a little caffeine can actually give us some benefit by slowing down the rate of fatigue, keeping us more alert and it may even help ease the pain caused from exercise induced muscle soreness.

However, the running world is being warned about the dangers of consuming too much caffeine before and during a long distance run or race. Doing so can actually have fatal or debilitating consequences, primarily for the longer distance runners who consume caffeinated beverages and then use caffeine based gels, gus or jelly beans as a refueling source during their races or training runs.

Last month, Dr. Lewis G. Maharam, also known as the Running Doc on, put out a notice to runners to carefully monitor their caffeine consumption before and during runs or races of 10K (6.2 miles) or greater distances. This, after the International Marathon Medical Directors (IMMD) began to look into the cause of death and collapse of runners at various races across the world. Unfortunately, those runners who died were unable to give any insight as to their caffeine intake prior to their death. However, the runners who collapsed and were successfully resuscitated have been interviewed and it appears there may be a connection to caffeine consumption and their subsequent collapse. The common denominator for the runners appears to be the amount of caffeine they consumed before and/or during a race. Running experts recommend runners limit their caffeine intake on their run/race day to no more than 200 mg (the equivalent to 2 cups of coffee), however these runners reported to have exceeded this amount.

With so many energy drinks on the market today, not to mention the countless gels, gus and jelly beans containing caffeine, as well as quick access to coffee shops, caffeine is very seldom in short supply. But until more is known if there is a connection between caffeine and the death or collapse rate of long distance runners, tis better to err on the side of less is more.

Do you monitor your caffeine consumption? Will the recent news report from the IMMD discourage you from consuming caffeine based beverages and foods prior to or during your exercise or running?

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USAF-RETIRED 1/31/2021
I don't run 10 K. So know worry. Report
NELLJONES 5/11/2020
Sorry, I love my coffee. Report
good to know this! Report
Good information . Report
Very interesting Report
Now I have to go Google caffeine gus- no idea what that is. Report
Thank You for the great advice. Report
Thanks... Report
Everything in moderation, SparkFriends as we do not know the day nor the hour. It seems to always be something. Report
I drink 5 cups a day, but never before a run. I want to sit and savor coffee. I find no energy boost in it, and I drink it black, strong and without sugar. I don't feel extra alert because of coffee. I can't see that I would want to drink coffee prior to any activity, after all I'm trying to hydrate before and during; coffee works against that. For that reason I try to buy gels and such without caffeine. Report
Very interesting article and worth looking into Report
Read a study today indicating consuming caffeine may limit the intake of iron. Report
I buy decaf tea and drink decaf soda, so it isn't an issue for me. Report
I have a heart condition that makes too much caffeine fatal to me.
I NEVER have more than two cups a day and won't even take a sip of coffee or a nibble of chocolate on days where I'll be exercising.
I've collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital before, because of that stuff.

So, of course, my views are completely biased, but I say no caffeine for runners! Report
WOW..after reading all of this..I'm just amazed, and had no idea that people did this "caffine loading" as I'll call it; before running!! I use to drink a lot of coffee myself, but seemed to be more tired, instead of having the energy like others say they got...maybe at first, but then just totally the opposite years later. I really don't even drink coffee anymore, I changed to drinking Green Tea, which is great hot or cold and you can add your own natural flavors to Stevia,lemons,honey; because even the diet soda's have ARTIFICAL SWEETENERS in them, which is very unhealthy for your body for many reasons(like making your body's cells unhealthy..producing cancerous cells instead of healthy ones) so I stay away from soda, diet soda's, really anything thats been Chemically made...and not GOD made. Doing stuff in moderation is always the best bet....MORE is not always better!! I am going to be training for my first Half Marathons soon, and I'm so glad that I read about this..Thank you for sharing this with us!! :) Report
I usually have a cup or 2 of coffee prior to a race, but it's usually anywhere from 2-4 hours before the race begins. I hadn't taken into consideration the caffeine in Shot Blocks and Sport Beans. I eat those on runs longer than an hour. Report
Another source of caffeine that is much healthier is green tea. Back when I used to be a distance runner I would actually bring a bottle of weak grean tea with me out on the trail. The natural anti-oxidants help smooth out the toxins released during your work out and your body can deal with the small continual flow of caffeine much easier than the big bursts you get from gels, shots or energy drink. Report
I wouldn't drink more than one or two cups of coffee anyway. I just wouldn't feel good. Report
Sorry guys, I feel like I've had to give up so much - I can't let go of the coffee.... Report
I'm just getting ready to start running, so I didn't realize the gels had caffeine. I'll watch out for that as I grow as a runner. Thanks! Report
I don't drink coffee before a run, usually and have only consumed one (small) cup of coffee before my marathon - to wake up. I can certainly appreciate the warning against too much, but maybe none at all isn't such a bad idea after all? Report
I agree, a little may be beneficial, but more than a cup or two is way too much... Report
I agree with this article from sort of similar experiences. I have in the past had 2 cups of extra strong coffee before a surf when the waves were quiet BIG and my heart rate was beating way to fast and got punished by a set and almost drowned because I was not relaxed/small breathes/super twitchy = not safe. I really felt like it was damaging my heart and was getting slight pains in chest. So I vote no for coffee before any form of heart raising exercises. Cheers Report
Thanks for this blog post Coach Nancy. As you already know I'm in training for my first marathon and I'd never heard of Gu until meeting with a group training meeting. They said we would get to try some as we progress through our runs.

DarkStar8, Gu is a name brand for an energy gel. It's like those tubes of liquid gel candy they used to make (maybe still do) but with vitamins like Vitamin C; E also Calcium and a little Potassium.

I did pick up some with caffiene, but I haven't tried them yet because honestly I'm a bit scared of caffiene. If I do try it, it will likely be as an after run supplement.

Oh and I'm not a coffee drinker. It has the opposite affect on me. Zzz-zzz :) Report
What is gus? As in gels, gus, and jelly beans.... Report
It really comes down to the old adage, "everything in moderation!"

Thanks for posting this, Nancy. It may save someone from a scary incident in the future. Report
I'd heard for years that consuming caffeine before a run could be good for you because it helped you get your heart rate up, but something about that never really jived with me, it seemed opposite to what my biology class taught me, that caffeine was dehydrating to the body. I always chose to stick to water or sports drinks instead, for not only the dehydrating reason, but also because the worst feeling in the world is having to pee while you're running a race. You can't focus on anything else. I'm glad I stayed away from this dangerous trend all along! Report
I drink coffee in the morning before I workout & also run.
But I mix my own coffee half caf/half decaf.
I use to drink full strength but cut back even how many cups I drink now too.
3-16 oz-to 2-12 oz cups! Report
I thought about this when I heard of a few runners had died doing a 1/2 marathon. I know that doing long distant cycling and running I would see a lot of the gel pacs on the road which is disturbing on how much litter runners and cyclist contribute but the point being that for some people that is a lethal combo pushing your heart like that and then pumping caffeine into to. Report
I eliminated caffeine when I started Spark. Report
I'm astonished by the amount of "caffeinated" energy products on the markets these days. I'm sure that drinking several cans of RedBull can not be healthy, but I do know people (fairly athletic ones) who routinely chug a can prior to a workout. I can't do it. Too much caffeine makes me jittery. So, I've been trying to limit my caffeine intake.

I know that previous research has said that drinking caffeine/coffee can help release fat from fat cells more quickly. however, now you have this. there really does seem to be a lot of conflicting data and research.

Personally, I'm going to limit my intake.
A lot of the gels and blasts that you consume while running have caffeine. I think that they need to limit those also. I drink caffeine and I do see a difference in my heart rate since cutting back. I think that if you limit it and enjoy it reasonably than it can be safe. Report
Great information. Report
I don't use energy drinks. I will have to learn more before deciding what to do about caffeine. Coffee isn't my thing. I do drink several diet sodas with caffeine every day. Report
Sounds like the ones having problems were consuming a LOT..drinks, candies, gels. I'm not worried about my couple cups of coffee.

Also like comment #81...way to think critically! :) Report
I feel that too much caffeine can be harmful, and drinking it in moderation is not bad. i am not a runner, but at one time I was drinking caffeine per regular coffee and was consuming too much and had heart palpations, which my doctor attributed to drinking too much regular coffee, so I started drinking decaf in moderation, like no more than 2 cups a day. That seemed to work. Good article! Report
No caf for me. I haven't consciously had any since 1993. Report
I drink coffee all day long. A few years ago, I cut back to 50 percent at the doctors request. I've no desire to run races...did that when I was a child. But, I do not reduce my coffee intake if I plan to work out. Report
Don't take away my coffee!!! Report
Holy smokes I am glad I read this. I am running in my first half marathon in 17 days, and unfortunately am a big time caffine hog. I drink coffee in the AM and diet sodas ( I KNOW, I KNOW...I am working on it! :-))during the day. I will DEFINITELY heed this warning. Thank you so much for posting!! Report
Or maybe those who drank the caffeine were more likely to be resuscitated than those who did not? Maybe caffeine ACTUALLY saved their lives?
Be careful with how you interpret data. Report
For years, I was a caffine junkie-had to have my diet coke to get me going (no coffee please) and would drink at least a 6 pack or more a day. However, about 10 years ago, I decided to give it up and after a horrible few weeks, have never looked back. I will occasionally indulge in a soda these days, but I don't crave it or need it and never have more than a glass or two and then go months without it again. For anyone giving up caffine, those first 2-3 weeks are cruel or they were to me-headaches, cranky, just downright didn't feel good, but once it was out of my system, I have never felt better so anyone thinking of giving it up-go for it! Report
Rather then a large bolus of caffeine before the run, I use small amounts throughout and it seems to help dramatically. I buy Jitterbeans, they are a candy shelled chocolate covered espresso bean with caffeine(natural) added. I take a box on runs and eat 1-2 every hour or so depending on the length of the run.

For me the trick is portion control. To much caffeine plays havoc with my body. Report
Too much of ANYTHING is not good! Report
I only drink one cup per day,and I do some running some time. Report
I usually only drink one cup of coffee in the mornings. I try not to drink more than that, unless I know I'll be up late working. I usually don't drink coffee right before exercising b/c it gets my heart rate up & I don't need that if I'm going to raise it through exercise. The one exception is first thing in the morning--If I know I'll be exercising for more than an hour or so, I'll drink just enough coffee before exercising to prevent a caffeine withdrawal headache (like 1/3 cup). Report
I have been caffine free for 8 years, except for an occasional piece of choclate. Decaf tea and coffee still has caffine in it. Report
As a rule, I don't drink caffeine - it makes me jittery - even two cups of decaf coffee. I do ingest ONE pack of caffeinated sport beans which has about half the caf of a cup of coffee, but only on race day. It totally gives me a jolt which I wouldn't have if I drank coffee every day! Report
I enjoy coffee, but only after my run. Drinking too much before a run causes some other issues. Report
Even though I have about 2 cups of coffee a day, I never have any caffeine before a jog, even though it can help. I don't think I will ever be a long distance runner so I don't have to worry about it so much, ha!