Can caffeine boost your run in our Malaysian climate?

By Patricia Hului


THERE IS LESS THAN 500m left of the lap. As much as you want to keep your pace, you are slowing down and can hear your heart pounding and your heavy breathing.

Your legs start to give away. Eventually your run slows to a walk, and you are unable to carry on.

Running endurance means a lot to runners. To run that extra mile and finish the lap makes a difference whether you are a professional or recreational runner.

For avid runners, most have heard that caffeine helps induced on runner’s endurance performance, but these studies are usually done outside Malaysia where the climate is different from ours and could affect the efficacy of nutritional supplements.

Dr. Chen Chee Keong is a senior lecturer in the Sports Science Unit, School of Medical Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) did a study with his colleagues Wong Chee Ping and Amit Bandyopadhyay on effects of caffeine supplementation on endurance running performance in a hot and humid environment just like in Malaysia, the first of its kind.


Dr Chen Chee Keong presenting his findings on caffeine supplementation for endurance in running.

Speaking at the second Malaysian Teacher Training Institutions (IPGM) International Conference on Teacher Learning and Development 2014 on Nov 4, Chen’s results were favourable: “Our main finding of this study was endurance running performance in the heat was improved with caffeine supplementation.”

In this study, the result shows that caffeine takers have higher exhaustion time than those non-caffeine users. Meaning to say, runners in our weather have proven that they can run longer if they take caffeine an hour before they start compared to those who did not take any caffeine.

According to Chen, how caffeine helps is that it stimulates lipolysis, the breakdown of fat when you run.

Another way caffeine can help is through its antioxidant properties.

One condition runners frequently encounter from prolonged exhaustive exercise is oxidative stress. Exercise-induced oxidative stress, Chen stated, can lead to muscular fatigue.

That is why some suggested using antioxidant supplementation on sport performance to reduce muscle fatigue.

Nescafe did market on caffeine’s antioxidant properties these recent years in advertisement.

But Chen mentioned that caffeine works better when its ingested in a capsule form and “must be taken one hour before exercise.”

Even if you don’t have a caffeine capsule, another study also done by Chen and Nurul Ain Abu Kasim, found that consuming a caffeinated beverage such as Nescafe 3-in-1 containing 50-100mg of caffeine also can improve your running in our weather.

Besides caffeine, he also pointed out that honey drink and bee bread also has an ergogenic effect on endurance performance.

“Nevertheless, future studies are necessary to substantiate these findings and to understand the precise mechanism underlying these observed,” Chen said.

This is because researchers now know caffeine, honey drink and bee bread does help in enhancing running performance but how these supplements work in our bodies we have yet to fully understand.

That being said, Chen advised that nutritional supplementation should be tried during trainings, not during the competition itself.

“There is always risk involved, if you try it during competition instead of running for race you might be running to the toilet instead.”

Despite all of these studies, Chen also emphasised that there was nothing can replace your training.

“Nothing can replace the hard work you do.”

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