Sometimes you need an extra boost of energy before a workout.
While options abound, one of the most popular pre-workout drinks is coffee. High in caffeine and low in cost, coffee makes for an effective beverage to enhance exercise performance.
Yet, you may wonder whether it’s right for you and if there are any downsides to drinking coffee before exercising.
This article tells you whether you should drink coffee before a workout and explains the best coffee types.
Benefits of a pre-workout coffee
Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages, and it’s a natural source of caffeine, antioxidants, and nutrients. What’s more, it’s tasty and affordable for all income levels.
Though you don’t need caffeine to get in a good workout, many people consume caffeine before exercising to give them additional energy and help them reach their performance goals.
Caffeine has been widely researched as an effective ergogenic acid — or performance enhancer — in both strength and cardio training. Its benefits may include:
- increased muscular strength, endurance, and power
- increased aerobic endurance
- improved sprinting, jumping, and throwing performance
- sparing glycogen stores and utilizing fat as the primary fuel source
- enhanced focus and alertness
Caffeine is effective for athletes and non-athletes, meaning that the average gym-goer still benefits.
Summary: Coffee is a well-known sports performance aid that may increase your strength, endurance, power, alertness, and energy levels during a workout.
Timing and dosage for drinking coffee before a workout
Most research suggests that you should drink coffee around 45–60 minutes before exercise to allow the caffeine to get absorbed into your bloodstream and reach its peak effectiveness.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) has concluded that caffeine is an effective ergogenic aid when consumed in doses of 0.9–2.7 mg per pound (2–6 mg per kg). This equals around 135–405 mg for a 150-pound (68-kg) person.
However, the average gym-goer will likely benefit from consuming the lower end of this suggested caffeine intake.
Since an average cup of coffee contains roughly 100 mg of caffeine, drinking 1–2 cups (240–475 mL) 45–60 minutes before your workout will quickly provide enough caffeine to support your performance.
Summary: Drinking coffee around 45–60 minutes before a workout allows caffeine to reach its peak effectiveness. Most studies indicate that caffeine is highly effective for workouts when consumed in doses of 0.9–2.7 mg per pound (2–6 mg per kg).
Downsides of drinking coffee before exercise
Although coffee is a healthy beverage, there are some downsides to drinking it before a workout.
During exercise, your body redirects blood toward active muscle groups and away from the digestive system, slowing digestion. For some, this can lead to stomach upset and digestive issues. Thus, some people may wish to exercise on an empty stomach.
To avoid these side effects, try to drink coffee at least 45–60 minutes before exercising to give your body time to absorb it.
Suggested read: Does coffee dehydrate you?
Alternatively, opt for 1–2 espresso shots with less volume but more caffeine. Two shots (2 ounces or 60 mL) boast around 130 mg of caffeine.
Furthermore, some people experience caffeine sensitivity, which may lead to jitters, anxiousness, stomach upset, and increased heart rate. If you feel some of these effects but still want coffee, try limiting your intake to 1–2 cups (240–475 mL) per day.
Moreover, excess caffeine consumption may lead to sleep difficulties or insomnia, which may hamper your athletic performance. Since caffeine’s half-life is around 5 hours, it’s best to stop caffeinating at least 6–8 hours before bedtime.
If you find caffeine bothersome, it’s best to avoid it. You can still get in a great workout by ensuring you eat a nutritious diet, get adequate sleep, and manage your stress levels.
Summary: Drinking a coffee before exercising may lead to stomach discomfort. What’s more, some people are more sensitive to caffeine and may be better off without it.
Types of coffee to try before your workout
People usually consume caffeine as coffee, pre-workout supplements, gums, and candy, though many other caffeinated sports nutrition aids are available.
Most studies that have analyzed coffee’s effects on sports performance have used instant or regular coffee. However, other brewing methods, such as a French press, pod brewing systems, and espresso, likely confer the same benefits.
Suggested read: When is the best time to drink coffee?
Adding dairy or plant-based milk contributes a small amount of calories, protein, and carbs but likely won’t affect your performance. However, if you plan to do fasted cardio — or exercise before eating — you should only drink black coffee, which contains no carbs.
Avoid drinking specialty coffees that contain added syrups and flavorings, which are usually high in calories and sugar. Not only will these drinks potentially hinder your fitness goals, but they’re also harder to digest.
Summary: Any regular, brewed coffee likely supports sports performance. That said, it’s best to avoid specialty coffees since they’re often high in sugar and calories.
Risks and side effects
Most adults can safely tolerate up to 400 mg of caffeine daily, or around 3–4 cups (710–945 mL) of coffee.
However, caffeine tolerance is highly individual, with some tolerating higher doses while others experience unwanted side effects after a single cup of coffee. Common side effects include:
- increased heart rate
- rapid pulse
- sleep disruption or insomnia
- stomach discomfort
In rare cases, excessive caffeine intake (over 1,000 mg) and excessive exercise may lead to rhabdomyolysis, a condition that breaks down your body’s muscles and may lead to kidney failure.
Moreover, pregnant women should limit their intake to 200 mg daily and consult their healthcare provider before using coffee or other caffeine sources for sports performance.
Summary: To avoid side effects, it’s best to limit your caffeine intake to no more than 400 mg per day, or around 3–4 cups (710–945 mL) of coffee.
Coffee is a delicious, cost-effective beverage that may help you achieve your fitness goals.
This popular drink has been linked to greater strength, power, and endurance during a workout. For best results, drink around 1–2 cups (240–475 mL) 45–60 minutes before your workout.
Remember that many prefer to exercise on an empty stomach, and some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. Therefore, it’s best to listen to your body and find an amount that’s comfortable for you.