It’s one of the weirdest sights you’ll ever see. So, “Why Do Marathon Runners Drink Coke?”
I mean, we know that sugary soft drinks aren’t good for us, and they are well-known to contribute to obesity.
Plus, marathon runners are athletes, so they need to be very careful with their nutrition.
However, we’ve probably all seen a marathon runner guzzling a can of coke at one time or another.
Allow me to reveal all.
Why Do Marathon Runners Drink Coke?
The main reason that marathon runners drink coke is for the instant boost of energy. Coke, and other sodas, contain caffeine, sugar, and sodium. This will typically provide a spike in energy levels when the going gets tough. However, it’s far better to drink coke towards the end of a marathon, as blood sugar levels will soon drop afterwards, which will leave a runner feeling tired. With that being said, most athletes prefer flat/decarbonated cola, as excessive carbon dioxide consumption will lead to gas and feeling bloated.
1. Wow! What a Rush
Marathon runners will drink coke because of the spike in energy levels it gives them.
Coke, and other sodas, contain caffeine, sugar, and sodium.
This concoction will immediately give you a surge in energy.
Plus, the carbs contained in coke are very quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.
So, this isn’t like a slow-release complex carbohydrate that typically gives you energy throughout the day, e.g. oats.
No, this is all about getting a sugar rush as quickly as possible.
And it’s not just coke that will give a marathon runner the boost they need.
Basically, any soda or soft drink that contains ample caffeine and sugar will do the trick.
So, it’s probably fairly common to see marathon runners guzzling down a Red Bull, Monster, or some other flavoured soft drink.
2. It’s Not Just Marathon Runners Who Drink Coke
Coke isn’t just for marathon runners, and is typically used by a wide variety of endurance athletes.
This includes ultramarathon runners, cyclists, ironman contestants, and even American Football stars.
Basically, any sports person who exhausts a lot of energy.
There can be plenty of times during a performance, competition, race, etc. when a competitor needs that instant boost of energy.
And for all the terrible things that you hear about soft drinks, in terms of health and weight management, it does give you a great dose of caffeine and sugar.
You have to remember that the vast majority of these sports stars don’t actually live off coke and other soft drinks.
Well, you’d hope not anyway.
However, it certainly comes in handy when their energy levels are lagging.
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3. I’ll Have a Flat Coke Please
Something else to consider is that this isn’t just about cracking open a can of coke mid-race for a quick boost in energy.
Oh no, there’s actually far more thought that goes into a marathon runner’s coke consumption.
In fact, most athletes will aim to drink flat or decarbonated coke.
You’ll typically find that volunteers at the various drinks and feed stations will strategically open cans of coke (or other soft drinks) well in advance.
It’s not unheard-of to start opening cans of coke a good few hours before race time.
The main reason for this is to ensure that the coke goes flat before the marathon runner drinks it.
In fact, the flatter the better.
As well as the caffeine, sugar, and sodium content, coke also happens to contain carbon dioxide.
This is generally why you get gas, burp a lot, or whatever else you do whenever you drink coke.
However, this isn’t what a marathon runner needs mid-race, as it is likely to hinder their performance.
The carbon dioxide will typically cause gas and bloating.
Plus, it can make your breathing feel a little tighter.
This is definitely not what a marathon runner wants.
So, whereas the rest of us may enjoy a carbonated drink for pleasure, for a marathon runner it’s all about improved performance.
Producing Flat Coke is an Art
There are also special techniques to get coke and other sodas flat as quickly as possible.
You’ll often notice that the coke that marathon runners consume will be in bottles, as opposed to cans.
The “trick” is to firstly get rid of some of the coke, typically about 10-20% of the drink.
You should then shake the bottle and tap the outside.
Then slowly open the cap until you hear that “whoosh” sound.
Do not open the cap any further, but simply allow the carbon dioxide to escape slowly and naturally.
Then tap the bottle once more to release any gas.
You will then have to repeat this performance over-and-over again until all the carbon dioxide has been released.
The other methods include stirring the coke, pouring the coke from high up numerous times, and even blowing bubbles in it as well.
So, as you can see, there’s a fair amount of effort that goes into creating coke flat enough to actually help, rather than hinder, a marathon runner.
What Does Soda Do To Your Body?
4. Timing is Everything
Okay, so we know that coke provides an instant boost of energy, but there is also a downside for marathon runners and other athletes.
The sugar rush you get is only a temporary fix and it won’t be long before you come crashing back down to earth.
You must have noticed this yourself whenever you have a sweet treat.
And if you’ve got kids you’ve definitely seen this in action.
Basically, as soon as you consume something that contains a lot of sugar you almost become hyperactive.
However, within the space of 30-60 minutes you suddenly feel lethargic, devoid of any energy, and perhaps even a little sleepy.
This is simply your blood sugar levels dropping.
The exact same thing will happen to a marathon runner after they consume coke.
Okay, it may actually take a bit longer for this “crash” to occur.
This is simply due to the level of physical activity, as well as their metabolism firing at high levels.
But the crash will still happen at some point.
This is generally why you’ll see marathon runners drinking coke after the halfway stage of the race.
And more often, within a few miles of the finish line.
Coke is generally used as a pick-me-up when your energy levels are severely depleted and you need something to keep you going.
If a marathon runner consumes coke too early in the race, they may start off well, but then they have to deal with that energy crash many miles before the finish line.
5. Coke is Easier on the Palate
One final reason that marathon runners drink coke is simply that it’s easier on the palate.
Most athletes will of course consume the normal energy boosters.
So, this would be things like energy bars, nutritional drinks, nutritional gels, etc.
However, all of these standard nutritional products when consumed over-and-over again can become boring.
It’s much the same effect as if you’ve decided to eat the same healthy meal time and again.
After a while you just can’t stomach it anymore.
The same can be said for the various healthy energy-boosters that marathon runners take.
So, rather than settling for a flavourless energy drink mid-race, they choose the sweet taste of coke.
Trust me, it will taste like heaven, and it can actually provide a mental boost as well.
The sweet taste of coke can be so comforting on the palate and the mind that it can literally propel a runner to the finish line.
How to Fuel Your Marathon Training & Races
So, as you can see, marathon runners will typically drink coke for the spike in energy it will give them.
However, it should preferably be consumed decarbonated and flat, as the carbon dioxide content can lead to bloating.
It’s also important to consume coke at the right time, which is usually towards the end of the race.
This is when most marathon runners require a boost to keep them going.
Coke is also consumed by various athletes, especially endurance athletes, for exactly the same reasons.
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Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.