Legal Ways to Dope: Coffee

Need to gain an edge? These five performance enhancers are safe and won't get you popped.

    Photo: val lawless via Shutterstock

We’ve written about the benefits of caffeine before, but it remains an “incredibly underrated” ergogenic aid, says Dr. Joyner. In fact, until 2004 the substance was on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list. If an athlete tested positive for more than 12 micrograms of caffeine per milliliter of urine (around eight cups of coffee could do the trick), his or her sample was considered positive. 

Until now, many coaches would recommend a caffeine pill to athletes looking for a jolt, but a recent study in the journal PLOS One shows that coffee works just as well. Riders who drank the coffee-based equivalent of 5 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight (about two cups of coffee) performed just as well as those on caffeine pills—finishing a time trial nearly five percent faster than their decaf-drinking peers.

Caffeine “works across the board by increasing fatty acid mobilization—so you use more fat as a fuel—and lowering fatigue,” says Sims. The result: You feel less tired, and your body has more fuel available for aerobic metabolism, sparring your glycogen stores for the crucial final intense moments of a race or group ride.

Caffeine freaks take note: A recent review of 21 studies suggests that tapering off caffeine seven days ahead of a race will maximize its effects; Sims suggests maintaining your regular intake to prevent disrupting your sleep cycle.

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