Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Caffeine is probably one of the most widely used drugs. It’s common to find it in coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks, as well as gums, sports gels, sports gummies and more.
Caffeine has been shown to help:
• Decrease rate of perceived exertion, meaning it feels easier to do hard work
• Increase mood
• Improve reaction time
• Delay fatigue
• Improve concentration (which can come in handy when figuring
• Improve endurance performance
In daily life, caffeine may provide a bit of extra energy when working through a tough route or crux. That extra boost can help you feel less tired or increase your reaction time. This may mean better climbing, fewer mistakes and a sharper mind for safety checks.
If you choose to use caffeine for climbing, the best dose is around 100 to 200 milligrams, taken about one hour before working out. You can get this amount from:
• Sports gels/gummies: 50-200 mg
(check the label)
• Coffee: 60-200 mg
• Caffeine pills: 100-200 mg
(check the label)
• Caffeinated soda: 35-115 mg
(check the label)
• Black or green tea: 15-110 mg
Be careful with caffeine, though! A study in 1997 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that heart rates can be higher when climbing, even if climbing at low intensities. This has been verified by other studies since then. It is because your arms are often above the heart in climbing, which raises heart rate; and the general anxiety of being up high sometimes makes heart rates skyrocket. If you have a high heart rate from climbing combined with a high heart rate from caffeine, this could be dangerous.
Other negative effects include:
• Decreased ability to sleep
• Inability to focus (if the dose is too high)
• Stomach upset and diarrhea
If you experience any negative effects, it’s time to re-examine your caffeine use. You may be getting it from multiple sources throughout the day without realizing it, such as chocolate, headache medicine, coffee and energy drinks.
Caffeine can also be addictive. If you feel you rely on it just to get through the day, or you have any withdrawal symptoms, like irritability or headaches, you may be addicted.
Some people also lose sensitivity to caffeine if they are consistently taking it. If you’re the kind of person that can’t get through the morning without your cup of joe, you may not see any benefit to adding caffeine to your pre-climb routine, because your body has already adapted to the caffeine you ingest on a regular basis.
Caffeine’s effect on your body can vary based on your genetics and weight, but what about caffeine source? The caffeine molecule is the same regardless of where it comes from (a natural source like coffee or tea vs. a synthetic source added to soda or gummies), which means it will have the same effect on your body no matter how you ingest it. This was verified by a study in PLoS ONE in 2013. However, a natural source like coffee can vary widely in the dose of caffeine it delivers with each cup. If you’re seeking a certain dose for climbing performance, relying on a synthetic source may be wise. However, it’s good to note that natural sources like coffee and tea also contain antioxidants, which can be beneficial for health.
If you’re running out of energy for a post-work climb, also check what you’re eating throughout the day. A good fueling plan or pre-climb snack may be all you need. Caffeine may not be needed if you’re feeding your body right! Don’t use caffeine in place of proper fueling. A good diet goes a long way toward helping you climb better, supporting health, building muscle and preventing injury.
And finally, for your daily dose of myth-busting, caffeine does NOT dehydrate you! A study in PLoS One in 2014 showed that up to four cups of coffee per day can contribute to your fluid intake for the day. However, some people do feel like they have to urinate more after they have caffeine. If this is you, I’d suggest foregoing it before climbing and avoid having to take off your harness for a mid-climb bathroom break.
And one last caution: children and adolescents shouldn’t be using caffeine. Save that for the grown-ups.
Feature image by Ryu Voelkl