When it comes to versatile beverages, coffee easily takes the lead. You consume a cup for a much-needed boost of energy on a sluggish morning at work. You take small sips from a mug when you’re feeling a bit constipated in hopes of having a successful experience in the bathroom. And you may even combine it with alcohol to get through an awkward first date.
And as it turns out, you may want to consume coffee before a workout as well. Here, two registered dietitians explain how having a cup of coffee beforehand could enhance your exercise session and provide tips on how to incorporate pre-workout coffees into your routine.
The Advantages of Consuming Coffee Before Exercising
Although coffee contains various bioactive compounds, the drink’s benefits before working out are largely due to its caffeine content, says Abby Chan, M.S., R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist and co-owner of EVOLVE Flagstaff in Arizona. In case you didn’t know, caffeine is a naturally occurring substance that stimulates your central nervous system, speeding up the transmission of messages from your brain to your body, explains Chan. “It’s one of the most extensively researched ergogenic – meaning performance-enhancing – aids available on the market and within sports, and it’s also legal,” she adds.
Decreases Perceived Exertion
Since caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, making you feel more awake and energized, drinking coffee before exercising could influence your perception of how hard you’re working (RPE), says Allison Knott, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics in New York City. “You might be able to push yourself a little harder without necessarily feeling like it,” she explains. “That’s where most of the research consistently shows a positive impact of caffeine intake before exercise.” In fact, a small 2007 study discovered that participants who consumed coffee before endurance cycling reported a lower RPE compared to those who had decaf.
Sipping on a cup of coffee before a workout could also help you achieve an impressive exercise session. Systematic reviews have suggested that caffeine has a performance-enhancing effect during power-based sports, resistance exercise, and endurance sports, as indicated by research published in Sports Medicine. More specifically, consuming caffeine before a workout has been proven to improve strength and power.
And in a research of joggers, individuals who consume java prior to a 1,500-meter race finished the competition more quickly than those who consumed caffeine-free coffee.
Beside aiding you in powering through your perspiration session, consuming coffee prior to your workout may assist in expediting your recovery process afterwards, says Chan. Following approximately 15 minutes of physical activity, the glucose level in your bloodstream initiates a decline, and typically, your body resorts to glycogen (the stored configuration of glucose in your muscles and liver) as a source of energy, she clarifies. Nonetheless, “there is some speculation” that caffeine can activate liberated fatty acids, which your body can subsequently employ for energy in order to spare glycogen, elucidates Chan. “If you can reduce the amount of glycogen you utilize during sports, then theoretically, by potentially utilizing more fatty acids, you can recuperate more rapidly and efficiently because you won’t deplete your energy reserves to such a great extent.”
Even though caffeine may provide you with a slight advantage in the recovery process, it is still important to not forgo your post-workout meal. “Regardless of your actions or the quantity of caffeine you ingest, you will still utilize some of that glycogen,” states Chan. In order to properly recuperate after an intense perspiration session, you must replenish your glycogen stores by consuming carbohydrates and supply your muscle tissue with protein, which facilitates the reparation procedure, according to information published in the Journal of Sports Medicine.
How Much Coffee Should You Consume Before Exercising?
To obtain the performance-enhancing benefits of caffeine, you should consume approximately 3 to 6 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight about 60 minutes prior to commencing your workout, as per recommendations from the International Society of Sports Nutrition. In an individual 8-ounce cup of coffee, you will obtain 80 to 100 milligrams of that invigorating stimulant, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Using some mathematical calculations, this implies that a 150-pound individual will need to consume as low as 180 milligrams – the quantity present in around two cups of coffee – to experience those advantages. However, the precise amount may vary for each person, based on their individual tolerance to caffeine and other factors, mentions Knott.
The Hazards of Consuming Coffee Before a Workout
Caffeine is generally deemed safe, as long as one does not surpass the recommended daily intake of 400 milligrams set by the U.S.
Nutrition and Medication Supervisory Group, states Knott. Nonetheless, a few individuals who are responsive to caffeine may encounter unfavorable supplementary outcomes from consuming coffee — notwithstanding if they limit their intake below that recommended limitation, she adds. “That could imply you undergo digestive turmoil, you potentially undergo the shakes, or you possess an accelerated heart rhythm,” states Knott. “At that juncture, the effectiveness advantage isn’t essentially going to surpass the jeopardy in terms of how you’re sensing. You aspire to sense your supreme heading into a physical exercise.” (
Even if you can tolerate caffeine without any issues, consuming coffee before exercising could still affect your sleep. Caffeine has a half-life (meaning the time it takes for half the dose to leave your body) of five to six hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So if you were to have a cup or two before a 6 p.m. workout, says Chan, “you could end up delaying your bedtime, and therefore not get enough sleep or have restful sleep, which can also hinder recovery.”
Coffee vs. Pre-Workout Supplements
Coffee isn’t the sole way you can get your dose of performance-enhancing caffeine. Pre-workout supplements also contain caffeine, along with a mix of substances such as creatine, beta-alanine, amino acids, and nitric oxide agents. However, there are several factors to consider when deciding which energizer to use. For one, the FDA doesn’t evaluate the safety and effectiveness of dietary supplement products before they are sold. “Many supplements are not necessarily tested or regulated by a third party, which can mean there might be ingredients in the supplement that are not clearly listed on the label,” says Knott. “Coffee may be potentially safer in that aspect.”
The amount of caffeine can also vary significantly between products, says Knott. An 8-ounce cup of coffee may only contain 80 to 100 milligrams of caffeine, while a serving of pre-workout could have 150 to 300 milligrams, according to the Cleveland Clinic. “It’s going to be a little more difficult—though not impossible—to obtain that much caffeine from coffee compared to something as simple as a scoop or two of pre-workout,” says Knott. If you have a cup of coffee in the morning and then use a scoop of pre-workout before your afternoon run, you may exceed the recommended caffeine limit and experience side effects such as restlessness, headaches, dizziness, anxiety, insomnia, and dehydration, according to the National Library of Medicine.
Not to mention, coffee may be easier to incorporate into your routine. “Coffee may be more enjoyable if you want to have it with your breakfast before your workout,” says Knott. “I would also say it’s more accessible in that if you’re out and about, you can easily grab a coffee somewhere before a workout, whereas using a pre-workout might require more planning.”
How to Use Coffee as a Pre-Workout Drink
Interested in utilizing coffee as a workout booster? Contemplate consuming a cup or two (depending on your weight and caffeine tolerance) approximately one hour prior to heading to the gym or the cycling studio. However, if you’re completely new to caffeine, proceed with caution to avoid any undesirable side effects, recommends Knott. “Don’t attempt to immediately consume 400 milligrams or even 200 milligrams,” she advises. “But if you’re someone who is accustomed to it, then sticking to the quantities you’re accustomed to can certainly help prevent some of those negative effects.”
It’s also important to refrain from drinking coffee on an empty stomach, as it may lead to gastrointestinal discomfort, notes Knott. That’s why she suggests pairing your cup of Joe with a carbohydrate-rich snack, which will also provide the necessary fuel to power through your workout. “Enjoy a slice of toast, complemented by some peanut butter and banana, and have your coffee,” she suggests. “Do so within the hour before embarking on a run or any other activity…[and] this can potentially have a significant impact on your performance.” If coffee induces a need to have a bowel movement, don’t worry: the post-coffee urge to defecate typically occurs within approximately thirty minutes of consuming the beverage, giving you ample time to use the restroom before commencing your workout.
To ensure that your pre-workout coffee doesn’t disrupt your sleep, consider only consuming it prior to a morning workout, recommends Chan. Most importantly, test the effects of pre-workout coffee on an average, unimportant gym session, rather than before an important race or competition, in case it negatively affects you initially, adds Knott. “Don’t have coffee for the first time right before a race,” she advises. “It’s beneficial to experiment with it and understand how your body reacts, so give yourself sufficient time to adjust.”
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