People often drink coffee before exercise. Others choose caffeine in different forms such as energy drinks, teas, pills and powder as a pre-workout stimulant. Then comes the question of should they take caffeine or not and if so how much to take.
Should you drink coffee or take caffeine before exercise? Yes, it’s scientifically proven to improve physical strength and endurance and classified as a nootropic too, having an effect on mental stimulation. Caffeine is also shown to help burn fat, which may be one part of why you are exercising.
Why the Confusion?
Go to any message board, forum or support group and the consensus is far from one-sided as to whether coffee or other caffeine-based drinks or supplements are good pre-workout.
Some people suggest coffee is a great pre-workout drink and swear by its benefits and couldn’t go without it before their workout.
On the other side of the debate, many say you shouldn’t use it as you could become reliant on it. Also having too much can impact things like your sleep and also your tolerance level to caffeine.
There are science-based benefits for drinking coffee or taking other caffeine drinks and supplements as a pre-workout drink. This article will show you these, why they should be taken seriously and how you can best optimize your pre-workout coffee to best feel its benefits.
We’ll mainly focus on coffee, but any drink with caffeine or supplement containing caffeine has a similar effect, so if coffee’s not your thing then there are alternative ways to get the benefits.
Coffee is a stimulant due to its caffeine content, this makes it a good pre-workout drink. It’s proven to help with endurance, muscle preservation, and even to minimize those post-workout pains.
Regular drinkers of coffee outside of exercising often feel the benefits of increased motivation from the boost in alertness and better mood. Both things can give you an edge during exercise, pushing you that step further.
How does this work and what’s the science behind it?
When tired, a chemical called adenosine binds to receptors in the brain. When adenosine binds to these receptors it slows down brain activity and leads to fatigue.
Due to caffeine’s structure being similar to adenosine, when it’s consumed it competes with adenosine for the receptors. It binds to the adenosine receptors and has the opposite effect, this reduces fatigue and the feeling of how hard it is to exercise.
The majority of the studies done on caffeine and its impact on exercise included the use of supplements as opposed to drinking actual coffee.
The issue here lies in the fact supplements contain more caffeine than a regular cup of coffee. This isn’t a large issue however, as when the caffeine dose is matched, coffee is identically beneficial in improving performance.
The amount of caffeine depends on the bean, prep method and the amount you’re drinking, body factors such as weight should also be considered.
How much Caffeine should you take pre-workout?
When you want to Optimise your pre-workout drink, this is how you do this.
Experts say that caffeine doses between 210 to 420mg for a 70kg person are required to see an improvement in performance – this equates to about two cups of coffee.
This amount should be adjusted to your own weight but 210 to 420mg is what you should be aiming to consume if you want to reap the benefits of coffee as a pre-workout drink.
For those who don’t drink coffee regularly, start with lower dosages and work your way up.
Caffeine can have some nasty side-effects, everyone is individual and the best dosage for each person varies, so take time to experiment.
Some of you may be night owls and not early birds. Coffee as a pre-workout later in the day isn’t recommended as caffeine stays in your system for four to six hours after consumption; this could lead to an inability to sleep.
Sleep is massively important for recovery and should not be sacrificed for a boost in performance. If you can switch to earlier or even morning workouts if you do want the boost from coffee or caffeine.
It’s recommended that you drink coffee 45 to 90 minutes before exercise.
Studies have shown caffeine concentration is at its peak about 45 minutes after consumption. After this, the body begins to use up the caffeine.
In terms of hot or cold coffee, a 2015 study found that consuming a cold or icy drink reduced the sweat rate due to it tricking sensors in the stomach into thinking it’s colder than it is. This, in turn, makes the body think that it is much colder than it actually is.
On the other hand, drinking something hot before a workout could help your body by indicating to it that it’s about to heat up. This leads to an increase in sweat rate to better cool you down before you’ve actually started to heat up.
So that’s how you can get the best out of your pre-workout coffee.
Scientifically Backed Benefits of Caffeine
Increased endurance and workload with a reduction in perception of effort
As biohackers, we want proof if coffee or caffeine should be taken before exercise and science has given us this. But it’s also meant that some organizations, including the NCAA, have begun to ban caffeine in high amounts due to the effects it has on performance.
In one study where athletes were given about 400mg of caffeine. The group was able to cover 1.3 to 2 miles more than those in the placebo group.
Cyclists who had caffeine instead of water or carbs saw an increase in their workload of 7.4% compared to 5.2% in a group that had carbs and water only.
Regular coffee drinkers were shown to run 1500 meters on a treadmill faster by 4.2 seconds over those who were drinking decaf.
Another study found that coffee helped reduce the perception of effort, making athletes work harder.
Caffeine helps to battle age-related loss of muscle strength as it supports the neuromotor.
The neuromotor are the impulses which are actually sent to the muscle. Supporting this helps coffee to help maintain youthful muscle tissue.
A 2013 study backed this up, finding that caffeine helped counteract the age-related loss of muscle strength. This suggests that caffeine could help preserve your muscles, and reduce the risk of injury.
Due to the caffeine contents, coffee can boost blood vessels.
A study found that drinking a cup of coffee improved blood flow in 27 adults.
People who were not regular coffee drinkers had a 30% boost in capillary blood flow after consuming regular coffee over those drinking decaf.
Improved circulation leads to improved oxygenation of your tissues, which could boost exercise performance.
Reduce workout and post-workout pain
A study found that 2 to 3 cups of coffee consumed one hour before a workout reduced the participants’ level of perceived muscle pain.
A decrease in pain felt helps to push you a little bit further during exercise.
Another study found that consuming two cups of coffee one hour before a workout reduced post-workout muscle soreness by up to 48%. Aspirin only produces a 25% decrease.
Often found in weight loss supplements, caffeine aids in a variety of ways concerning weight loss.
Research has shown that not only before, but also after exercise, taking caffeine supplements increases the release of stored fat. It can also increase the amount of fat that you actually burn while exercising. This is because it increases heat production and epinephrine which helps burn additional calories and fat.
Better memory + cognitive function
Coffee or caffeine before exercise has brain benefits too. A study was conducted where a group were given either a placebo or caffeine soon after looking at images.
The day after they were asked to recall the images and the caffeine consuming participants did significantly better.
Coffee makes your brain release a growth factor called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF makes brain stem cells convert into new neurons in your brain, this can have many benefits for brain function.
If you don’t over consume caffeine you will feel the benefits of it with few to no side effects. Coffee can be a huge part of a healthy lifestyle if consumed properly.
The common side effects of consuming too much caffeine are as such:
- Upset stomach
- Increased anxiety
- Trouble sleeping
- Increased heart rate
Again, these effects come from high doses, well in excess of the earlier recommended 210 – 420mg.
Consuming caffeine is also not recommended for people who take some medications (consult your doctor in this case). People with a heart condition or high blood pressure should also be careful and get expert advice.
Coffee can play a vital part in your workout, and in your healthy lifestyle as a whole. It can help with many aspects of your life.
Specifically for workouts, it can help to improve endurance, muscle preservation, circulation and even reduce workout and post-workout pain that we all feel.
Side effects are commonly known and come from consuming a lot, well in excess of what most people do. Some side effects may be felt by those who are not used to consuming so much coffee, so vary the amount you consume if you do feel any of the above-listed side effects and work up to the recommended 210 – 420mg.