Caffeine often gets a bad rap, but it can enhance sports performance - including hiking! Caffeine is a stimulant that makes you feel more energetic and less tired. Thus, many athletes use it to gain some extra pep in their step during competition and training.
How to use caffeine on the trail
Don't skip your morning brew - There's a misconception that drinking caffeine increases urination and causes dehydration. Therefore, you may be tempted to forgo their morning cuppa so they won't have to pee on the trail. The problem is that they don't replace the eight to 16 ounces of fluid they would normally drink with water and thus start their hike in a fluid deficit. Caffeine doesn't increase urination - drinking any liquid does! Coffee, tea, and soda count as water, so if you skip what you're used to drinking in the morning, you may have a hard time catching up on the trail during a hot day.
You won't drink it if you don't like it - Hikers who tend to get dehydrated on the trail tell me they don't like water. They are used to drinking a couple of servings of tea or soda during the day. If they avoid those on the trail, they'll avoid drinking altogether. So, sure to fill your thermos with tea or bring a soda if that's what you're used to drinking. It's essential to get in the fluids any way you can!
Pack a pick-me-up - Find yourself flagging on the trail? That last climb wear you out? Take a page out of the endurance athlete's playbook and ingest some caffeine. It will take about 30 minutes for you to feel energized, but it may be just what you need to help you finish the day strong. Sources of caffeine that also provide easily-digested carbohydrates will help even more! Look for sports goos and gels, snack bars, and electrolyte drinks that contain caffeine for that mid-hike boost.
Is using caffeine safe?
Average use caffeine consumption provides some health benefits and may protect against depression, Alzheimer's disease, and some cancers. Studies that find detrimental effects from caffeine use mega-doses of around 600mg per serving. It's easy to reach such levels when you consume 'energy' drinks which contain an average of 300mg and up to 400mg of caffeine in one container. However, the average coffee (95mg) and tea (around 50mg) drinker won't get anywhere near those levels in one sitting.
There are very few risks to consuming caffeine. Avoid caffeine if you are pregnant or told by their doctor to abstain. Caffeine takes about 12-hours to leave your system, so it may affect your sleep if taken too late in the day. Repeated caffeine use does create desensitization - meaning if you're used to drinking two cups of coffee a day, you might not feel the same effects from an additional boost as someone who doesn't drink coffee regularly.
While nothing beats training for the trail to give you the strength and energy you need to be a healthy hiker, maintaining regular consumption on hiking days and supplementing on the trail may help you out on a challenging day. If you want to become the healthiest hiker you can be, message me to find out how The Healthy Hiker program can help you!