Q:

Pre-race Drink: Coffee vs. Red Bull

Which is better to drink for a pick-me-up before a race: coffee or an energy drink?

Coffee Beans

Caffeinate     Photo: Puuikibeach on Flickr

A:“One hundred percent coffee,” says New York City-based sports nutritionist, Lauren Antonucci. “What athletes are really looking for is a boost from caffeine, and they need to be careful they don’t take in any unwanted or banned substances at the same time.”

In addition to caffeine, energy drinks also contain other stimulants that are unregulated and are often available to consumers long before researchers warn of adverse side effects. In April, for example, the FDA flagged DMAA, an ingredient found in several energy drinks including Jack3d, as potentially deadly, particularly when consumed with caffeine.

Caffeine alone can increase alertness and time to exhaustion, while decreasing fatigue and rate of perceived exertion. As we’ve discussed before, those benefits max out at three milligrams per kilogram of body weight. That’s about 2.5 cups of coffee, or 200 milligrams of caffeine, for a 150-pound person. Any more, and you risk adverse effects including jitters, headaches, and an irregular heartbeat.

Athletes, Antonucci says, should consider drinking half their usual amount of coffee before an event, as pre-race jitters may up the chance of experiencing negative side effects at their normal dose. 

THE BOTTOM LINE: Coffee wins. You’ll get the ergogenic boost of caffeine without worrying about downing other potentially harmful or banned substances.

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