A couple of weeks ago I came up with a little hypothesis that I wanted to test on a longer ride. The idea goes that caffeine can help the body flip the switch from burning carbs to burning fat for energy. That might be a little oversimplified, but I was willing to test it out. This was my hypothesis:
If caffeine does indeed kickstart the fat burning process as suggested, the transition should be easier with the aid of the Energy Beans and Roctane (both have caffeine) – I could be able to switch from burning carbs to fat a little more seamlessly – without having to mess with my diet.
Here was my plan:
I’ll drink my normal 2 cups of coffee in the morning because I need that about as much as I need oxygen. Then, I’ll start out with the on-board Clif bars at the beginning of the ride, figure two of them by the time I hit 50 miles. At 60 miles, I’ll switch to the GU Roctane and Energy Beans – with the caffeine… 60 miles would be 10-20 miles before I hit “the wall” which would give the caffeine time to work.
When I went out for my 200k a couple of weeks ago Saturday, I stuck to that plan. In fact, I followed that almost exactly, but a little early. I ate a bag of Energy Beans and a Gu Roctane at the 30 mile mark. I stopped again at around 50 miles and ate two bags of Beans and a Gu and I was suffering a little bit by that point from riding into the wind for so long, so that originally led me to believe that my hypothesis was busted but then something surprising happened… I stopped at a gas station at the 70 mile mark and picked up a water, a Gatorade and a 12 oz bottle of Coke. I’d run out of water miles before and I’d been trying to conserve it as I went. Once I was thoroughly hydrated I got back on the road and held together well for another 22 miles before stopping for a rest and a recharge on Energy Beans. From that point on I didn’t have any trouble and I finished the last 30 miles very strong averaging between 2:50 minutes and 3:15 minutes per mile, or about 20 mph.
To be truthful, I really couldn’t tell a difference from when I hit the wall at about 50 miles until I finally pedaled through it at about 94 miles. Also, for that ride I had no drafting help for the entire 125+ miles so I expected to suffer quite a bit more than I had on previous centuries… I do feel there was a difference but maybe only a small one. The biggest reason for my charge at the around 94 miles was that I only had 30 to go – I could see that the end was within my reach and the mental relief was much greater than any caffeine charge.
Of course, to really test this properly I had to do that ride again – sans caffeine. Woof. I hadn’t let this out earlier, but that’s exactly what I did last Saturday on my Harrison to Midland to Harrison ride, with the exception of one Gu Roctane at the 54 mile mark. The energy beans I ate during the ride didn’t have caffeine. I didn’t even have a cup of coffee before I left in the morning. All of my other preparations were the same as any other century I’ve done… The only difference was a lack of caffeine, and I suffered through the biggest bonk I’ve ever been through – riding or running.
Now maybe there were other factors involved – I didn’t bring much with me to eat and 108 miles is a long way to go on a Clif bar, two bags of energy beans and one Gu Roctane – even with the possibility that I simply should have brought more food with me, there is absolutely no way I’m ever walking out the door with my caffeine for a long ride again… Unless I decide to test the theory one more time. I don’t know though, that last one hurt pretty bad. I don’t think I want to do that again.