Caffeine, Dopamine, & Running

Caffeine, Dopamine, & Running

Does coffee make us happy?

Yes. But why?

Coffee, the morning ritual of choice for most runners, isn't just about a quick caffeine kick. An interesting study from the Journal of Neuroscience is reaffirming coffee's relationship with dopamine, the neurotransmitter linked to happiness and motivation. Let's break down the science behind the coffee-dopamine relationship, especially for runners.

Coffee & Dopamine

The caffeine in coffee does a couple of things in the brain. First, caffeine blocks compounds known as adenosine from being received by the brain (at least to some extent). Adenosine is a neurotransmitter promoting relaxation, which can often make us feel tired and sluggish. This blocking effect is why most people believe coffee gives you "energy."

But caffeine can also Impact Dopamine release and the brain's reception of this chemical. When adenosine is blocked, higher dopamine levels may be allowed to enter the brain. Dopamine is a more commonly known chemical, but it's worth noting that dopamine is responsible for sensations of joy and happiness. So, when you reach for that cup of coffee, you're getting a dose of both caffeine and happiness.

Running and Dopamine

Now, let's look at the natural dopamine boost you get from running itself. Engaging in aerobic activities, like running, triggers the release of neurotransmitters, including dopamine. This is what's often referred to as the "runner's high." The dopamine release of running helps the mind to reaffirm (and in some cases redesign) the reward system within the brain. 

The Science Behind the Runner's High: Beyond endorphins, which contribute to the euphoria of running, recent studies highlight the Role of Endocannabinoids while running. These neurotransmitters, bind with receptors in the brain, releasing dopamine and creating a sense of pleasure.

Tips for Maximizing Running-Induced Dopamine Release:

  1. Diversify Your Runs: Incorporate intervals, hills, or trail runs to stimulate different neurotransmitters, maximizing the effect dopamine in the brain. This advice should be familiar. Varying workout types stimulate different training adaptations in the body. And so, different types of workouts elicit varied effects in the brain as well. 

  2. Work Towards Something: Achieving milestones, whether it's a new distance or a faster pace, triggers the release of dopamine. Crazy right? Achieving goals (that you made up yourself) will literally change the brain. So it would behoove you to set realistic goals that are both challenging but achievable.

Electrolyte infused Coffee for athletes

Making the Most of Coffee and Running

For runners, coffee can be a strategic tool. Here are some practical tips to maximize the coffee-dopamine relationship:

  1. Timing Matters: Have your coffee about 30 minutes before your run to align the peak of caffeine with the start of your run, giving your endurance a boost. Additionally, dopamine is released both during and after your run. This mental effect will pair quite nicely with the affects of caffeine. 

  2. Quality: Opt for high-quality coffee beans for a richer flavor experience and, subsequently, a more satisfying dopamine release. Shameless plug - Long Run Coffee is made from the highest quality coffee beans we can source. Just saying. Plus the roasting process is specifically designed to keep caffeine compounds in tact.

  3. Bioavailability: Ultimately, the purported effects of coffee of won't make any bit of difference if the compounds aren't absorbed by the body. This is an incredibly finicky subject, that science doesn't pretend have figured out entirely. However, we can make general observations. For example the Addition of Sodium can increase the bioavailability of caffeine, and therefore, ensure the effects are realized. Long Run Coffee's infused electrolytes should get the job done. 

In the straightforward partnership between coffee, dopamine, and running, we find a simple yet profound interaction Coffee can quite literally elevate the positive experience of running, through supporting physical movement and dopamine release. So please - enjoy your coffee, without guilt. 

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