Nutrition

Are energy gels with caffeine worth it?

James Witts examines whether energy gels containing caffeine are worth the extra outlay and the benefits you can expect

Several energy gels now include caffeine. Why? Well, according to performance nutritionist Sophie Killer, the benefits are numerous. “Caffeine’s so effective because you have caffeine receptors all over the body, even in the brain,” explains Killer. “In the brain, it’s one of these rare substances that can cross the brain’s blood barrier, resulting in a stimulatory effect that improves reaction time, which is good for descending and technical courses.

“In the muscle it’s a completely different response, leading to increased muscle-firing capacity, so you’re able to produce higher forces. It also acts on the central nervous system and dampens the messages that are sent to the brain saying you’re getting tired. And for longer efforts, it can improve the ability of the muscles to contract as well as increase aerobic capacity.”

But it’s not all good. Too much can lead to nausea, headaches and heart palpitations. That said, is there enough caffeine in energy gels to have an impact? “Around 3-4mg/kg is proven to have a positive, safe impact,” says Killer. “For an 80kg rider, this’d be between 240mg and 320mg of caffeine. That might equate to having a strong coffee before a race and then topping up with gels.” But, if using sparingly, save your caffeine hit for an upcoming climb or final sprint. “Do this about 30mins before this part of the course, as around 30-45mins after consumption is roughly when levels peak in the blood.”

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