The Athlete's Guide to Near-Constant Caffeination

Best practices for a good buzz

Nov 30, 2015
Outside Magazine

Clockwise from left: Run Gum, Secret Squirrel Cold-Brew coffee concentrate, Coca-Cola, Tcho Mokaccino chocolate, Clean Energy patch, and Clif Shot energy gel.    Photo: Hannah McCaughey

Caffeine improves brain function, reaction time, and your ability to burn fat for fuel. Here’s how to utilize everyone’s favorite legal performance enhancer. 


Run Gum

Nick Symmonds is one of the best track runners in the country. He also has a degree in biochemistry and is a cofounder of Run Gum. While the aftertaste leaves something to be desired, the one-two-three punch of caffeine, taurine, and B vitamins is designed to stimulate your central nervous system and aid muscle function. $18 for 12 pieces.

Why It Works: Caffeine consumed sublingually (think putting a pill under your tongue or chewing a piece of gum) is absorbed straight into the bloodstream. 

Secret Squirrel Cold-Brew coffee concentrate 

Whether you’re running 50 meters or 50 miles, hundreds of studies have shown that your morning joe helps you do it faster. $9 for six servings

Why It Works: As a caffeine delivery system, coffee is tough to beat—it’s ubiquitous, inexpensive, and delicious. It’s also a rich source of disease-fighting antioxidants.



High-fructose corn syrup aside, it’s hard to deny the power of Coke when consumed at an aid station in the middle of a race. In an unscientific poll, athletes praised Coke’s ability to relieve soreness. $1

Why It Works: According to sports nutritionist Sarah Koszyk, periodic consumption of low doses of caffeine during a long-distance event gives athletes an energy and performance boost without affecting heart rate or lactate levels. Research also supports drinking something sweet like Coke during a long endurance event as a way to activate your  “happy hormones” and help you concentrate.

Clif Shot energy gel

It’s easy to carry and comes in dozens of flavors. $30 for 24

Why It Works: Gels are designed to meet the body’s nutritional needs during exercise, explains coach Matt Fitzgerald. “They contain only what’s useful and nothing that isn’t.”

Clean Energy patch

It’s the size of a nicotine patch and supposedly works for up to eight hours. $10 for three

Why It Works: The patch, which sticks to your body via kinesiology tape, provides the wearer with a steady stream of caffeine through the skin.


Tcho Mokaccino chocolate

In one study, cyclists who consumed caffeine after a ride replenished 66 percent more of their glycogen stores than a control group. $6

Why It Works: Cacao has an anti-inflammatory effect and, adds Koszyk, “reduces oxidative stress from strenuous activity, which can cut recovery time.”

What About Caffeine Powder?

Avoid. The supplement has been linked to overdose deaths, and the FDA issued a warning about it. “Controlling the quantity you ingest can be a challenge,” sports nutritionist Sarah Koszyk explains. One teaspoon contains as much caffeine as 16 cups of coffee. 

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