Tag Archives: caffeine

Taurine’s effect on running performance

Red Bull is a popular energy drink that many athletes and even some non-athletes use as a quick pick-me-up. I never use it myself, but I have little doubt that it works since it has a lot of caffeine, as well as sugar. Besides this it also has B vitamins, and taurine.

The effect of the caffeine in Red Bull is nothing to be skeptical about, but I have been skeptical about the effects of taurine, an organic acid: Is Red Bull’s taurine content also responsible for the stimulating effect it provides?

According to the University of Stirling, Scotland, UK, in The effect of acute taurine ingestion on 3-km running performance in trained middle-distance runners:


Limited research examining the effect of taurine (TA) ingestion on human exercise performance exists. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of acute ingestion of 1,000 mg of TA on maximal 3-km time trial (3KTT) performance in trained middle-distance runners (MDR). Eight male MDR (mean ± SD: age 19.9 ± 1.2 years, body mass 69.4 ± 6.6 kg, height 180.5 ± 7.5 cm, 800 m personal best time 121.0 ± 5.3 s) completed TA and placebo (PL) trials 1 week apart in a double-blind, randomised, crossover designed study. Participants consumed TA or PL in capsule form on arrival at the laboratory followed by a 2-h ingestion period. At the end of the ingestion period, participants commenced a maximal simulated 3KTT on a treadmill. Capillary blood lactate was measured pre- and post-3KTT. Expired gas, heart rate (HR), ratings of perceived exertion (RPE), and split times were measured at 500-m intervals during the 3KTT. Ingestion of TA significantly improved 3KTT performance (TA 646.6 ± 52.8 s and PL 658.5 ± 58.2 s) (p = 0.013) equating to a 1.7 % improvement (range 0.34-4.24 %). Relative oxygen uptake, HR, RPE and blood lactate did not differ between conditions (p = 0.803, 0.364, 0.760 and 0.302, respectively). Magnitude-based inference results assessing the likeliness of a beneficial influence of TA were 99.3 %. However, the mechanism responsible for this improved performance is unclear. TA’s potential influence on exercise metabolism may involve interaction with the muscle membrane, the coordination or the force production capability of involved muscles. Further research employing more invasive techniques may elucidate TA’s role in improving maximal endurance performance.

This is all so preliminary, but can a “1.7 % improvement” really be called significant? I’m no expert on this subject or when it comes to statistics, but this doesn’t seem big enough to me to justify its use. We need to see what similar studies say on this matter.

I managed to find a study about taurine supplementation in cyclists done by the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, which found that:

This study examined whether acute taurine (T) ingestion before prolonged cycling would improve time-trial (TT) performance and alter whole-body fuel utilization compared with a control (CON) trial and a placebo (PL) trial in which participants were told they received taurine but did not. Eleven endurance-trained male cyclists (27.2 ± 1.5 yr, 74.3 ± 2.3 kg, 59.9 ± 2.3 ml · kg⁻¹ · min⁻¹; M ± SEM) completed 3 trials in a randomized, crossover, blinded design in which they consumed a noncaloric sweetened beverage with either 1.66 g of T or nothing added (CON, PL) 1 hr before exercise. Participants then cycled at 66.5% ± 1.9% VO(2max) for 90 min followed immediately by a TT (doing 5 kJ of work/kg body mass as fast as possible). Data on fluid administration, expired gas, heart rate, and ratings of perceived exertion were collected at 15-min intervals during the 90-min cycling ride, but there were no differences recorded between trials. There was no difference in TT performance between any of the 3 trials (1,500 ± 87 s). Average carbohydrate (T 2.73 ± 0.21, CON 2.88 ± 0.19, PL 2.89 ± 0.20 g/min) and fat (T 0.45 ± 0.05, CON 0.39 ± 0.04, PL 0.39 ± 0.05 g/min) oxidation rates were unaffected by T supplementation. T ingestion resulted in a 16% increase (5 g, ~84 kJ; p < .05) in total fat oxidation over the 90-min exercise period compared with CON and PL. The acute ingestion of 1.66 g of T before exercise did not enhance TT performance but did result in a small but significant increase in fat oxidation during submaximal cycling in endurance-trained cyclists.

Taurine supplementation did not improve performance but did improve fat oxidation by a small amount. I realize the first study was done on runners and the second study on cyclists, but the exercises are both cardio and similar enough for comparison purposes.

So it looks like it is the caffeine and sugars that are exclusively responsible for Red Bull’s effects. The jury is still out on the taurine(B vitamins are also in Red Bull, but that is beyond the scope of this post).

No pain no gain

Who hasn’t heard this a billion times? I’m sure many of you reading this have even said this phrase, or repeated it like a mantra to yourself during difficult runs or workouts. It’s such a cliche. But more importantly, is it true?

On this blog, I do my best to avoid making assumptions. I prefer using skepticism when it comes to health and fitness. No idea is beyond question. If this means overturning what is considered “wisdom” by many, due to lack of evidence, then so be it. If it means offending people, then so be it, though offending anyone isn’t the intent. This is why, for example, I almost never do any stretching exercises and do not advocate it. There is no unequivocal scientific evidence in favor of stretching when it comes to preventing injuries or improving performance. See my “You don’t have to stretch!” post for more info.

As for the “no pain no gain” idea, it really is an overly simple dictum, to the point that it’s rather difficult to evaluate in any meaningful sense. And surely, few people actually take it literally. Obviously, beyond a certain pain threshold, few of us can continue exercising.

The subjective nature of pain also renders this saying not particularly meaningful or helpful. Not to mention the fact that we all have unique biochemistries, unique fitness goals, unique history of injuries and illnesses, and unique personalities. And while challenging yourself physically is a worthwhile goal that boosts health in ways that no drug can compete with, we have to know our limits. And to a large extent, even our “limits” can be highly subjective.

Like many people, even I believe a little bit of soreness after an intense run is generally a good thing. Note the “generally”. Sometimes the amount of pain we feel can be misleading; sometimes we don’t feel any pain or soreness until the day after the heavy workout.

All this ultimately boils down to yet another cliche – “listen to your body”. Unfortunately, many of us aren’t very good listeners, and our body, as alluded to before, isn’t always the best communicator. Sure, we know when we feel too exhuasted to go on, but we don’t often deal with extreme exhaustion after exercise; there’s a large grey area, and little objective criteria with which to make proper assessments. There’s a “little” pain, and “too much” pain on opposite sides of a pain continuum with so much grey area in between. This is one of the reasons I don’t use caffeine or other drugs – they cloud our judgement to the degree that they can make it almost impossible to listen to our body’s with any accuracy.

Knowing our Vo2 Max can be helpful to some degree, but it isn’t all that accurate and there are many other measurements. There’s also the “talk test” – if you can’t hold a conversation while doing intense cardio, you “may” be pushing yourself too hard.

So what can we do? Perhaps a more reliable “test” is to pay attention to our heart rate. If it isn’t back to normal after even intense exercise, this is usually a good indicator you are overdoing it. Or you are out of shape. Being fit means your body and your heart should have adapted to your fitness program. If it still beats fast well after(an hour or more) working out on a consistent basis, this may be a useful warning sign.

Besides this, avoid working out if you are in any kind of pain beyond minor soreness. If your legs hurt, exercise your arms and vice versa. Try to avoid becoming addicted to exercise and don’t try pushing yourself to your limits every time you exercise. Do this maybe once a week or a few times a month. Question every bit of fitness advice you receive and go ahead and make your fitness routine uniquely you; don’t try to be someone else, just because your friend benefitted from some new fitness program, doesn’t mean you will too. It seems everyone is an “expert” when it comes to fitness. Be careful who you get advice from, consider their credentials and experience. Unfortunately, even some people with multiple degrees and certification will spout pseudo-science.

So while “no pain, no gain” may have some truth to it, don’t take it as a commandment. It may even be harmful to follow it too literally. Whatever the case may be, now that it is spring, take advantage of the outside weather and get back into shape! You don’t need a gym membership. A park or the woods is way better.

Caffeine free living


Caffeine-free living isn’t very common in the western world, so a lot of people are surprised to learn I never drink coffee or any caffeinated beverages. Some people claim they can’t function without it – the very definition of addiction. In fact, caffeine addiction is the only socially approved chemical addiction throughout the world, with the exception of nicotine in increasingly fewer places. Several cups of coffee throughout the day is considered de rigueur at many jobs.

One of the reasons I don’t consume caffeine is because I do not like the idea of becoming addicted to any chemicals, even if caffeine isn’t all that dangerous at normal doses. Another reason is that instead of relying on caffeine to help stimulate me in the morning, I’d rather make sure I get enough sleep. Caffeine may help you overcome morning grogginess, but it can’t undo the damage caused by lack of sleep.

Instead of caffeine, I put a lot of red pepper on my breakfast, or I take it by the spoon. And/or I do some quick exercises while listening to music. Red pepper can be very stimulating, but unlike caffeine it isn’t addictive and doesn’t lead to withdrawal. Simply drinking water to rehydrate after so many hours of sleep also helps. Eating healthy, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep are all you need for optimal energy.

As much as I don’t like caffeine, I won’t deny that it appears to be beneficial for some forms of exercise. According to the Laboratory of Pharmacology, Faculty of medicine, University of Sfax, Tunisia that did a study on the Effects of morning caffeine’ ingestion on mood States, simple reaction time, and short-term maximal performance on elite judoists.:

In conclusion, the results of this study suggest that morning caffeine ingestion has ergogenic properties with the potential to benefit performance, increase anxiety and vigor, and decrease the simple reaction time.

I still wouldn’t want to use it after reading this. There are many other studies out there showing how caffeine is beneficial for exercise.

One of the biggest negatives of caffeine consumption is that it appears to promote fibrocystic breasts in women. The J Natl Cancer Inst., in the study, Caffeine consumption and fibrocystic breast disease: a case-control epidemiologic study.:

In a hospital-based case-control study that included 634 women with fibrocystic breast disease and 1,066 comparison women in Connecticut, the occurrence of fibrocystic breast disease was positively associated with average daily consumption of caffeine. Women who consumed 31-250 mg of caffeine/day had a 1.5-fold increase in the odds of disease, whereas women who drank over 500 mg/day had a 2.3-fold increase in the odds. The association with caffeine consumption was especially high among women with atypical lobular hyperplasia and with sclerosing adenosis with concomitant papillomatosis or papillary hyperplasia, both of which have been associated with an increased breast cancer risk. The association was specific to fibrocystic breast disease in that there was no association of caffeine consumption with fibroadenoma or other forms of benign breast disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, fibrocysts in the breasts don’t increase the risk of cancer, but they do make it harder to detect cancer.

I posted the above studies on caffeine just to see what the science says about caffeine use. They are not a recommendation to take up coffee drinking or caffeine use if you are not already doing it. While it does improve athletic performance in many people, this doesn’t mean you absolutely must use it to become a better athlete. Even amphetamines improve athletic performance, but would you want to run the risk of amphetamine addiction, or suffer side effects, just so you can run a little faster or longer?

So while I am aware of the science of caffeine and its potential benefits, I choose not to use it. I am not being “ridiculous” or “foolish” for abstaining from caffeine. And for the record, I am not a Mormon or a member of a religious sect that forbids coffee or caffeine consumption.

Caffeine may not be a hard drug, but it isn’t harmless either.