The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Is Caffeine Bad for Runners’ Feet? Health Considerations for Athletes Who Drink Coffee

Posted by on Friday, March 4th, 2016


In a recent study by the University of Georgia, researchers concluded that the caffeine in a morning cup of coffee can increase endurance by up to 24 percent. Their research indicated that a cup of coffee can have the same ergogenic benefits as a caffeine pill. Of course, there can be too much of a good thing. Our NYC podiatrists often treat runners who suffer from the ill effects of a pre-race caffeine boost, and runners should be aware of the possible health consequences of drinking excessive amounts of coffee.

The Effects of Caffeine on Sports Performance from Kathryn Thomson on Vimeo.

What Is the Biggest Danger of Caffeine for Runners?

A news report on the effects of caffeine on runners featured an interview with our very own Dr. Mariola Rivera Morell, a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine in New York at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. “I would not recommend someone who never had caffeine to, just before the race, drinks lots of [it]  they will see the bad consequences of it.” In the direst of situations, drinking coffee before a race could result in death from hypertrophic heart failure.

What Other Harmful Effects Can Coffee Have on Athletes?

At our sports medicine clinics, Dr. Rivera Morell often treats runners suffering from the following harmful effects of caffeine:

  • Numbness and tingling in the feet: Particularly when patients take higher dosages of caffeine (about four to seven cups), they may experience numbness, tingling, or even burning in the feet from the caffeine’s effect on the nerves. As Livestrong explains, “Taking too much caffeine can affect the way vitamin B-12 is absorbed into your body.” B-12 deficiency can affect the way your nerves respond to stimuli, causing that uncomfortable pins-and-needles sensation.
  • Gout: A study out of the Boston School of Medicine found that drinking four servings of caffeine was associated with an 80% risk of a recurrent gout attack over the next 24 hours. Drinking more than six servings led to a 3.3-fold higher risk of a flare-up. More research is needed to prove cause-and-effect or to determine the exact mechanism for how coffee may trigger a gout attack, but we generally advise patients who have had gout in the past to avoid coffee in the days following an attack and to drink in moderation if at all.
  • Muscle cramps: Severe muscle cramps in the feet and calves (the old “Charley Horse”) are primarily caused by dehydration. Athletes who load up on coffee before a race may be so full of liquid, they fail to hydrate themselves with enough water  thus causing horrific cramps either during the race or afterward.
  • Benign fasciculation syndrome: Drinking coffee doesn’t cause people to develop this twitching syndrome  unless, of course, they are allergic to caffeine — but more than likely, the involuntary spasms of the legs and feet are triggered by caffeine consumption.
  • Dry skin: Dry feet and cracked heels are common for athletes who drink lots of coffee. Like alcohol, caffeine is a diuretic  meaning that it causes individuals to urinate more frequently, causing water depletion. While dry skin may not seem like a huge problem, it can be a precursor to Athlete’s Foot Fungus and other infections as the cracked skin becomes a portal for microbes to get into the body.

Have More Questions About Caffeine for Runners?

Dr. Rivera Morell and the certified experts in sports medicine at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine are happy to answer any other questions you may have about pre-race caffeine or coffee consumption. If you’re suffering from any of the foot, ankle, or leg conditions mentioned here, contact us to find immediate relief.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.