Q. I quite often 'refuel' with a coffee after a long run or ride. Is this doing me more harm than good, or is it an acceptable recovery drink?
A. Restoring water and electrolyte balance is an essential part of the recovery process after any exercise that results in sweat loss and there are far better post-workout beverage choices than a coffee.
I tend to favour natural options such as Coconut Water or Cherry Active. For example Cherry Active contains natural compounds (anthocyanins and superoxide dismutase) that are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Some people who drink it report less muscle soreness and faster recovery rates after intense training.
Where caffeine can come into its own is in aiding performance before and during a long-distance event. However, this should be well considered, planned and practised. It should also be introduced at the lowest amount that is effective for you without causing side effects that could seriously disrupt your race.
You can estimate your post-workout fluid requirements fairly easily, albeit not precisely: weigh yourself before and as soon after your session as you can.
Each kilogram of weight loss is equivalent to one litre of fluid and this figure helps you calculate the net deficit at the end of the session.
The volume of any fluid consumed in the exercise session should be added to this weight loss to estimate total fluid losses during the session. For example, a 60kg triathlete might weigh 59kg after a session, a loss of one kilogram (equivalent to one litre). If that person has consumed 750ml of fluid during the session the total fluid loss is 1,750ml, giving a net fluid deficit of 1,000ml. So you'd need to take in at least that much to replace fluid lost in the session.
Alternatively, you could go online and use a good hydration calculator to give you a more accurate picture of your workout requirements.
Henrietta Bailey is a nutritionist who works as part of the Pure Sports Medicine team (puresportsmed.com). She specialises in sports nutrition and performance, obesity, cardiovascular issues, and diabetes and insulin resistance. She has worked with professional athletes and non-elites. She is a member of the Nutrition Therapy Council (NTC) and the British Association for Nutrition Therapy (BANT).