If you’re like most, you “coked up” today. Whether it was the bitter bean, the sweet black gold, the sophisticated tea, you got the buzz. It’s not like it’s a crutch, just something you’ve come to depend on to get you through life, to paraphrase Bobby Hill of “King of the Hill”. Whatever it is, the purpose is clear; it gets those neurons firing, the synapses jumping, pulse quickening, oxygen-uptake increasing, fat burning, etc. You do it for speed, whether or not you realize it. Makes you wonder if the Western world could have become what it is without, and if the Muslim world were aware of the impact that sharing coffee with the West would have.
Caffeine is a powerful drug. One widely used in cycling. Greg LeMond once opined that you could ride the Tour on Twinkies and Coke. The problem, for many, is figuring out the proper dosage and delivery mechanism. How many of each? A can of Coke or Mountain Dew? One cup or two? Espresso? How many?
First Endurance is making a name for itself with designer supplements for high-performance athletes. Earlier, we tried their EFS and Ultragen drinks and enjoyed both. First Endurance has now taken on the pre-race boost. Called, naturally enough Pre-Race, it is a caffeinated powder that can be mixed into any drink and set the body on “go!”
<Initially, we were surprised by the fact it was a powder. Powder means mixing, which can be a pain. Powder means a larger container to schlep to and from events. When we asked about it, the people at First Endurance told us that turning Pre-Race into capsules would mean six to eight large capsules. And that would be more problematic than carrying and mixing the powder; it’s hard to swallow that many capsules in one gulp. Especially because the powder serving is only a single small scoop. The quantity of a scoop can be put in a tiny plastic pill box for simpler transport.
The chalky yellow color is reminiscent of Vivarin, and comes in at the same caffeine dose, 200mg. We took this to mean that the powder would be bitter. It is; we tried it in water. And the bitter is why First Endurance recommends mixing it into a sport beverage. Not good in orange juice, either. With Gatorade and the other sport beverages we tried, there was a hint of the bitter, but no more than that.
200mg is a pretty big dose of caffeine. Enough to get us feeling pretty buzzed. We notice this dose sitting around, riding, and racing. And it can last all day.
If you can’t notice 200mg of caffeine, you have a problem. You’re chronically overdosed. People do build a “tolerance” to caffeine, one that is probably not good for overall health. It’s bad for the brain at the very least. Using an outside chemical to stimulate dopamine levels can have unpleasant consequences. The typical 8oz cuppa joe is about half that. A shot of espresso has 100mg. Here’s a short table of how much caffeine is in some popular beverages. The 8oz Red Bull has 80mg. The 12oz Mountain Dew has 55mg, while the 12oz Coke has 34mg. A caffeinated cup of tea can have anywhere from 80-175mg.
Just as one should be careful of caffeine dosage, First Endurance suggests limiting intake of Pre Race to a few times a week at most. They suggest before the most intense workouts and before races. But just as coffee can be a crutch, so, too can Pre-Race. Caffeine decreases the pain sensation, which is a great thing, but we need to experience that exquisite discomfort. For one, it makes our ability to tolerate pain all the better after we take Pre-Race. For another, it means we haven’t learned to fear pain.
We played with Pre-Race through the cyclocross season. Cross is a great time to play with a boost, as the races are all about pain management — short, intense, lots of power spikes. Because we’re sensitive to caffeine, we started experimenting with a half-dose before a race. Even at a half-dose, the Pre-Race is powerful stuff. At the end of a long cyclocross hour, we were ready for more. While in general, finishing with something is a bad sign for any cyclocross performance, we took it as a sign that we had plenty of the Pre-Race left in the tank for longer efforts.
When we kicked it up a notch to take a full scoop of Pre-Race before another ‘cross event, the effect was profound. While we were definitely amped, we were a bit lackadaisical at the start-line, possibly because of the slight euphoric feeling that comes from all sensations speeding up. Once into the race, we found the discomfort level decreased, which almost made it seem oddly easy, even as we struggled against strong competition.
And after the race, the full dose taken early in the afternoon had us up way into the night. Such a strong effect makes us think that we shouldn’t be Pre-Racing at a full-dose for events that start in the afternoon, but that it would be great for long road races and time trials that start in the morning.
Likewise, the dosage would be good for ultra-events. If it came to solo RAAM or Paris-Brest-Paris, or an Ironman, we’d start with the stuff, and then re-dose during the event. For those who are very sensitive to caffeine, doing half- or third-doses spread out might make more sense.
We have yet to discuss the other ingredients in Pre-Race. It’s these other ingredients that make it a First Endurance product. A full serving also has 3000mg of L-Taurine, 500mg of Citrulline Malate bonded 2:1, 350mg of Quercetin, and 300mg of Malic Acid. Bonded to the caffeine is Metabromine-Catechin-DMAE.
Most should be familiar with Taurine, as it’s one of the ingredients in Red Bull, though Pre-Race has three times as much. Taurine is a “neuroinhibitory transmitter,” which seems like a double-negative. What it means is that it helps block the pain sensations. Double-blind testing has shown this ingredient has increased time to exhaustion in cyclists
Citrulline Malate is something we had never heard of before. Studies — it should be noted that First Endurance provides a research packet for each of their products on their website, complete with sources — have shown that this substance stimulated nitric oxide, removes toxins, and reduces lactic acid and ammonia. The first increases blood flow, the second removed endotoxins that impair overall performance, and the third protects against increased blood acidity to improve endurance. Malic acid stimulates oxygen consumption. Catechin is naturally found in green tea and is a potent antioxidant, and has been proven to increase swimming times to exhaustion in mice (really!) by 8-24%. It also should give a smoother feeling than caffeinated soda, which can leave many jittery. Quercetin is a flavonal that is an anti-inflammatory and boosts the effect of caffeine.
While we couldn’t conduct a double-blind study on our self, we did find the Pre-Race to be a turbo-charged caffeine source. The other ingredients must have helped as we alternated our use of Pre-Race with 200mg of caffeine. We can’t say it made us faster, as we weren’t taking those times, but we can state that the boost seemed to be a bit more intense and last a bit longer. With the rest of the ingredients, we’re going to have to trust First Endurance’s research.
In addition to making impressive supplements, First Endurance makes an impressive guarantee. They state, “First Endurance Products contain NO ingredients which are explicitly listed under the banned substance list, and none of the ingredients are related chemically or pharmacologically…All ingredients used in First Endurance formulations come from audited suppliers who do not carry, broker or supply any banned substances. In addition, our manufacturing facility does not allow banned substances in any products manufactured.” While we find the “tainted supplement” defense weak, it’s great to see that a supplement manufacturer has taken the initiative to guarantee that their products are clean. We don’t want anyone getting anything but a clean boost from a supplement. We’re also happy that a company is willing to share their research. It gives us greater confidence in the product, a confidence on top of positive experience.