Monday, April 23, 2012

Doing the jitterbug

Caffeinated beverages are almost nonexistent in my beverage repertoire.  Generally the only beverages I consume are water, fruit juice (diluted with water), and milk.  At races I might have a cup of Gatorade at the finish line, and on extremely rare occasions I might drink a glass of wine or some tea.  But I NEVER drink coffee or any carbonated beverages, and I've never tried any of those energy drinks.  If not for my mad chocolate consumption, my caffeine tolerance is probably about as close to zero as can be.

Last week I ordered a box of GU in a flavor I'd never tried before (Mint Chocolate).  When the box arrived, I excitedly tore it open but then noticed that the Mint Chocolate GU packets said "No caffeine added" on them.  This was unexpected.

During long runs, GU works wonders in keeping me going, and I've had great success with the two GU flavors I've tried to date (Chocolate Outrage and Vanilla Bean).  I do know those two flavors, like most GU flavors, have a touch of caffeine in them - 20 mg of caffeine per packet, to be exact.  On the back of the Mint Chocolate GU the package said that its cocoa ingredient has a little bit of caffeine, so the Mint Chocolate GU does still have about 4 mg of caffeine per packet.  Comparatively, an 8-oz cup of coffee usually has between 100- to 200-mg of caffeine.  So even a "traditional" GU does not have a lot of caffeine.

GU has never caused me any kind of caffeine side effects.  However, I was admittedly not optimistic about a non-caffeinated GU giving me the same boost as a "traditional" GU.  But, I thought over time I'd conduct a statistically sound stratified sample analysis to experiment with different combinations of GU, thereby isolating the caffeine variables, including the placebo effect, to support/disprove this hypothesis.  (Sounds like I know what I'm talking about, eh?  Credit Wikipedia)

Then yesterday occurred. 

In my attempts to heal my recent aches and pains, I've really cut back my mileage over the past few weeks.  However, I am running the CARA Lakefront 10-Miler next weekend, so I wanted to get in a 10-mile training run yesterday. 

I debated back and forth on trying the uncaffeinated GU in yesterday's run.  I know you're not supposed to try anything new on race day - but I also didn't want to do anything too different in what will be my only preparatory run before this race.

Adam has unfortunately been battling a sore throat over the past few days.  Yesterday he made himself some tea and asked if I wanted any.  I said sure, and randomly had a mug of green tea thinking only about all the health benefits that green tea is touted to have.

Green tea health benefits apply to all forms of green tea!

As I mentioned before, I very rarely drink tea but when I do I've honestly never had a problem with it.  However, fifteen minutes after drinking the glass of green tea yesterday, I felt eerily jittery, jumpy, and very dehydrated.  It was a terrible feeling and I've never experienced anything like it before.

I looked up remedies for reducing the effects of caffeine.  Suggestions included drinking a lot of water, consuming some food, or getting some exercise.  I proceeded to drink two enormous glasses of water.  Unfortunately I felt better only for a few minutes before the feeling of dehydration started to come back. 

I decided it was time to go for my 10-mile run, hoping it would do dual duty and help ward off the caffeine effects.  (At this point, it was pretty obvious that more caffeine was not a good idea.  Science experiment or not, it ended up being a good time to try the uncaffeinated Mint Chocolate GU.)

The good news:
From a conditioning and endurance standpoint, I had no problem completing the 10 miles.  I even managed to do so without listening to any music at all, and didn't get bored until about mile 8.5.

The bad news:
I felt dehydrated almost the entire time, despite still intermittantly drinking a lot of water.  When I got back from the run almost two hours later, I still felt a little jittery even then.  It was a terrible feeling and it took several hours to go away completely.

Also, the Mint Chocolate GU with no added caffeine was not as effective for me compared to the "caffeinated" Chocolate Outrage or Vanilla Bean GU.  Isn't it ironic?  Don't you think? 

Yes, we will cue Alanis Morissette:

Although, I guess to be really fair I should try the Mint Chocolate GU on a day when I'm not already battling caffeinated jitterbugs.

For me, any caffeine must really be taken in very limited amounts.  Based on this experience, I may never touch a caffeinated beverage again.  Ever.

At the very least, I cannot consume tea before going for a run or before doing anything that requires relaxed concentration (e.g. riding a unicycle, balancing golf balls, or refolding a map.)  Mayhem may ensue.  And my jitterbug is reprehensibly ugly.


  1. how was the taste of the mint chocolate GU? Mint Chocolate is my absolute favorite flavor of ice cream, but not sure how it would fair as a GU flavor...

    1. Molly, the Mint Chocolate GU was very tasty - it reminded me of mint chocolate frosting! Too bad GU is so expensive otherwise it would be interesting to make brownies and top them with Mint Chocolate GU. Wouldn't that be a great pre- or post-run treat!?!?

  2. The "no caffeine" is exactly why I don't use mint chocolate normally, since it is so good! I can feel the caffeine and it helps me through the run for sure. Roctane is even better (but alas, I am cheap).

    However, I am a pot of coffee a day kind of girl, so maybe it's all in my head? Who knows...

    1. Agreed - I'm not sure how I'm going to use up the whole box of Mint Chocolate GU now, since I definitely prefer the caffeinated GUs. I've never tried the Roctane - it sounds really hard core - but based on what you said I'm curious to try it now! Maybe the Roctane can be reserved for special occasions like races?

  3. First, yeay for running that far sans music! I'm impressed!

    Second, I find all this caffeine talk very interesting. For some reason (maybe I overheard someone say it, but I'm not sure/can't remember) I always thought caffeine being in Gu was bad. Nevertheless, chocolate with caffeine is the only Gu I take. Like I said, interesting.*

    1. Thanks, Amy!

      Likewise, I was never thrilled about the caffeine in GU, either, just because I don't like consuming caffeine, period. But for me it really does make a difference. I console myself with the thought that it's such a small amount of caffeine that the benefits outweight the negatives. The Chocolate Outrage GU is awesome, indeed!

  4. I still haven't tried the mint chocolate GU.

    As for caffeine, I don't really go a day without it anymore, (I can't drink milk or sugary drinks, so I pretty much stick to water, coffee, and beer) :), but I don't really want it in my GU. Just something about the caffeine DURING a run seems weird to me.

    Also, I'll be at the 10 Miler this weekend, too! I haven't been great about my training, so it might be ugly, but I'm excited to give it a shot. Good luck!

    1. I understand. I've heard of people getting stomachaches from GU, and some attribute it to the caffeine. Also, I've been thinking about the number of GUs I'll need to take while running a marathon and the cumulative amount of caffeine doesn't sit well with me mentally!

      Good luck at the 10-Miler this weekend, too! Likewise, my training hasn't been great, but it should still be a good time (I've heard that CARA races are very organized). I look forward to comparing notes afterwards!

  5. I think you should try it again, sans tea. I use the Choc and Vanilla GUs but also the Tri-Berry which may or may not have caffeine... and I don't notice a difference with any of them. In fact, I think I need to eat something else entirely. LOL.

    I also don't drink caffeinated stuff. It makes my body feel awful. I think I could use the energy sometimes though!

    1. Some quick research to the GU website indicates that the Tri-Berry does have caffeine. It looks like only Lemon Sublime and Strawberry Banana have no caffeine, and the Mint Chocolate has minimal caffeine. Regardless, I will definitely try the Mint Chocolate again sans tea! How do you like the Tri-Berry flavor, by the way?

      I so hear you on eating something else entirely. In general I don't like eating things that are so processed, like these energy gels. I also hear you on being able to use the energy from caffeine sometimes, though. I actually saw an ad someplace saying that an apple was just as effective as coffee in making you feel alert! But I do think there's definitely a psychological element to caffeine, too!

    2. The tri-berry flavor is good! I like it instead of chocolate when it's warm - I like the chocolate one cold.