After winning the Tour de France last Sunday, Vincenzo Nibali was tested for a bunch of performance-enhancing substances. But Nibali and his fellow competitors were welcome to have several cups of coffee (or cans of Red Bull), before their ride into Paris; caffeine is not on the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list.
Still, the drug is definitely a performance booster. Just in the past few months, studies have shown that caffeine helps female volleyball players hit the ball harder and jump higher, rowers go farther, and cyclists go faster in a 20K time trial.
A large body of research shows caffeine helps in "pretty much every kind of endurance exercise," giving a performance advantage of 1.5 percent to 5 percent, says Mark Glaister, an exercise physiologist at St. Mary's University in Twickenham, U.K., and an author of the recent cycling study.
"Of all the legal supplements an athlete could take, it has the biggest effect on performance," he says. It's not clear why, but the suspicion is that caffeine increases the frequency or size of neural transmissions and suppresses pain, he says. It's not clear that it speeds very short sprints — Glaister is studying that — but it can help in any burst of activity that lasts longer than about a minute, he says.
Athletes see a benefit with a dose of between 3 to 6 mg. per kg. of body weight, which means that if a 140 pound cyclist were drinking an average cup of coffee, he'd get a lift after drinking about two to four cups. (Many brands of coffee have a lot more caffeine than the average of about 100 mg per cup, though.) It takes 30 to 60 minutes for caffeine levels to peak in the body and provide the biggest benefit, Glaister says.
But if just enough caffeine might make you pick up the pace a bit, too much is a really, really bad idea. Ingesting more than the recommended amount doesn't bring further improvements in performance, Glaister says, and even non-dangerous doses can cause anxiety, sleeplessness and restlessness in some people. Worse, large amounts of the drug can be dangerous and even deadly. It's pretty hard to unintentionally get to a toxic dose by drinking coffee, soda or even taking caffeine pills, but it's easy to run into trouble with the powdered pure caffeine that's sold online.
Following the May overdose death of a teenager in Ohio, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about powdered caffeine, saying it's impossible to accurately measure it with your standard kitchen equipment; 1 teaspoon is equivalent to 25 cups of coffee. Too much caffeine can speed the heart and cause seizures and death, the FDA says.
The NCAA has a cap on acceptable caffeine levels in athletes, but the World Anti-Doping Agency removed caffeine from its banned list in 2004. (The agency still monitors levels in athletes to track general usage patterns.) Researchers say the drug is metabolized at different rates by different people, making it tough to rely on a pee test to determine exactly how much an athlete has consumed. And given caffeine's presence in so many products, it's just too difficult for athletes to avoid the drug in the real world, even if they aren't trying to cheat. "It's ubiquitous," says Glaister.
From the beginning, Alt.Latino has been an experiment. We've tried many ways to present music as a window into Latin culture and experiences, and this week we come at our subject from another angle: a collection of interviews with artists whose recent albums offer distinct takes on Latin music.
New Yorker Rene Lopez comes from Fania stock: His dad was a key session man for many classic recordings. Lopez's new album Paint the Moon Gold shows another example of how he's absorbed that influence into his own palette of rock, soul and jazz.
The new SoCal trio Viento Callejero edges its way into the crowded cumbia landscape with its first album. The resulting sonic and rhythmic experimentation feels like a cool street breeze on a hot summer day.
Jasmine Garsd and I have been following the rap duo Los Rakas for a few years now, and its members were eager to explain how they combined what was essentially two solo albums into one new duo record that marks an ambitious step forward in their career.
Jorge Drexler and David Lindes come from two different parts of Latin America, but you'll hear how their stories connect through language and an affection for artfully crafted lyrics.
We've heard from the artists, and now we'd like to hear from you. Reach out through Facebook and Twitter to let us know what you thought about the interview format here. If you like it, we'll be sure to turn our mics toward other artists more often.
The drum fills and intros for this week's puzzler have something in common. In addition to being selected by Spillway drummer Matt Sokol, they're all performed by open-handed drummers. This means they play the ride cymbal with their left hand, while their right hand plays the snare. (Most drummers cross their right hand over their left to play the ride). If you're up on your open-handed drummers (Matt Sokol is an open-handed drummer himself), this week's puzzler will be a breeze! If not, well ... you might find some of these to be pretty challenging. Good luck, fellow fillers!
Spillway's latest EP, out this week, is As Astronauts Or Atoms. As always, if you know a fill (or intro) or drummer you'd love to see featured in this game, let us know in the comments section, or via Twitter @allsongs, #drumfillfriday.
The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
- "He climbed. He grew dizzy. His ankles grew numb. But he climbed and he climbed and he clum and he clum." Random House Kids is coming out with a collection of forgotten Dr. Seuss stories that were published in midcentury magazines. Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories will be released in September. Random House describes the book: "This follow-up to The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories features familiar Seussian faces and places — including Horton the Elephant, Marco, Mulberry Street, and a Grinch — as well as an introduction by renowned Seuss scholar Charles D. Cohen. Seuss fans will learn more about Horton's integrity, Marco's amazing imagination, a narrowly avoided disaster on Mullbery Street, and a devious Grinch."
- HarperCollins says it will cut parts of a book that caused former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura to sue the estate of late author Chris Kyle for defamation. Kyle's book American Sniper alleges that Kyle punched Ventura after the former governor and pro-wrestler commented that the Navy SEALs "deserve to lose a few" in Iraq. On Tuesday, a jury awarded Ventura almost $2 million.
- For The New York Review of Books, Hilton Als writes about Flannery O'Connor's "gorgeous soul sickness — her various judgments and hurts and desire to know and love her ever-mysterious Lord in what appeared to be a God-forsaken world."
- The poet and critic Stephen Burt is interviewed in The Adroit Journal: "Poetry for me is its own end, its own aim — but individual poems can also, as horses take riders, have other aims too. You can write a poem to redefine romantic love, or attack (or even advocate!) imperialism, or undermine the tradition of all-too-simple protest poems, or classify types of upstate New York snow."
- "I glanced furtively around to check that no one was watching and prepared to scale the wall." — Douglas Field on breaking into James Baldwin's house.
After seven years, NPR's Tell Me More is going off the air on Friday.
The final program can be heard on member stations and will be live-streamed on this page, beginning at 11 a.m. ET. It will include the show's popular Barbershop roundtable, a political chat, a discussion of faith and a live musical performance.
The show has focused on issues of particular — though by no means exclusive — concern to African Americans and other people of color. Host Michel Martin made it a point to interview not just newsmakers and policy analysts but everyday people who shared both their stories and perspective on matters ranging from poverty to parenting.
After one segment aired about a woman who struggled to get her children across town to school following her separation from her husband, "for weeks afterward people stopped me on the street to tell me how it haunted them," Michel recalled in a recent essay for National Journal.
NPR announced in May that it was canceling the show, which drew a fair amount of criticism. Leslie Alexander of Fulton, Md., spoke for many disappointed listeners when she wrote to NPR's ombudsman that "Tell Me More is the only show I know of that features 'minority" stories as just regular stories.....Where else can you hear a discussion about the issues of the day and the panelists are from four or five different ethnic or racial groups but no one is expected to be the spokesperson for their ethnicity or race?"
Michel and Carline Watson, the program's executive producer, will remain with NPR as part of its new Identity and Culture Unit, which will help incorporate broader coverage of issues such as race, faith, gender and family online, at public events and in the network's flagship newsmagazines.
Listeners and contributors have been sharing stories and tweeting photos this week about their determination to stick with Michel on NPR and on Twitter. In her last "Can I Just Tell You" essay for Tell Me More, Michel said that the job of telling the stories of people often ignored by the media is far from finished.
"There's still a pie out there, many stories yet to tell," Michel wrote. "We are going to keep looking for those."