Drinking Coffee as a Preworkout? Know the Benefits and Risks

Discover the pros and cons of a cup of joe as a pre-workout boost. Explore how caffeine enhances performance and potential side effects to consider.

by
Sarah Zimmer, PT, DPT
— Signos
PT, DPT
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
July 19, 2024
June 27, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Coffee is the perfect pre-workout drink for fitness enthusiasts looking to enhance their workout performance without resorting to synthetic energy drinks. Often regarded as a morning ritual or a midday pick-me-up, coffee is increasingly recognized for its potential benefits before hitting the gym, regardless of what time of day you exercise. The caffeine in coffee has a plethora of performance-enhancement benefits.1 However, it's essential to understand the balance between its advantages and possible downsides to make an informed decision about incorporating it into your fitness regimen.

This article explains the science behind the effects of caffeine consumption on the body during physical activity, exploring how it can improve performance, focus, and energy levels while having some negative side effects for certain individuals. By examining both sides of the coin, you’ll find a comprehensive overview of using coffee as a pre-workout supplement, helping you decide if it's the right choice for your fitness, wellness, and weight loss goals.

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What Are the Benefits of Drinking Coffee Before a Workout?

With its high caffeine content, coffee offers a range of potential advantages that can enhance your physical performance and overall workout experience. From boosting muscular strength and endurance to improving energy levels and focus, the positive effects of coffee and the benefits of caffeine are backed by scientific research and widely acknowledged by fitness enthusiasts.1 Let’s percolate the benefits in detail, providing a better understanding of how coffee can support your exercise goals and optimize your performance.

  • Increases Your Muscular Strength and Endurance: Caffeine can enhance muscle contractions and delay the onset of fatigue, allowing you to lift heavier weights and perform more repetitions during your workout.2 Pair this with the right amount of protein before or after your workout to further enhance muscle growth and recovery. 
  • Improves Your Performance During Sprinting, Jumping, and Throwing Activities: The stimulant effects of caffeine can improve your power output and quickness, making you more explosive in activities that require bursts of high-intensity efforts, such as HIIT, plyometrics, or cardio.2
  • Boosts Your Energy: By stimulating the central nervous system, caffeine can give you a noticeable increase in energy levels, helping you to feel more motivated and less tired as you exercise.3 
  • It May Reduce Muscle Pain During Workouts: Some studies suggest that caffeine can act as a mild pain reliever, reducing the perception of muscle soreness and discomfort during and after intense physical activity.
  • Can Potentially Increase the Amount of Fat You Burn: Caffeine has been shown to increase the rate of fat oxidation, meaning your body may use more fat for fuel during a workout, which can aid in weight loss and improve body composition.4
  • May Enhance Your Metabolism: By increasing your resting metabolic rate, caffeine can help you burn more calories throughout the day, even when you’re not exercising.3
  • Enhances Your Focus and Alertness: The mental stimulation provided by caffeine can improve your concentration, making it easier to stay focused on your form and performance during your workout.5

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href=coffee-blood-sugar>Does Coffee Raise Blood Sugar?</a>.</p>

Coffee Before Working Out: When to Have It

Timing your coffee intake before a workout is crucial to maximize its benefits. Ideally, you should consume coffee about 30 to 60 minutes before exercising and a pre-workout snack to help with digestion. This allows the caffeine to be absorbed into your bloodstream and reach peak levels, significantly impacting your performance. The onset of caffeine's effects typically begins around 15 minutes after consumption, with peak stimulation occurring within 30 to 60 minutes, ensuring you get the full advantage of its energy-boosting and endurance-enhancing properties right when you need them most.6

However, individual responses to caffeine can vary, so it's important to experiment with timing to find what works best for you. Some people may feel the effects sooner, while others might need a bit more time for the caffeine to kick in. Additionally, consider the type of workout you plan to do. For high-intensity, short-duration activities like sprinting or weightlifting, closer to the 30-minute mark might be optimal. For longer, endurance-based exercises like running or cycling, having coffee closer to the 60-minute mark might provide more sustained energy throughout the session.7  

Are There Any Side Effects of Drinking Coffee Before a Workout?

While coffee can significantly enhance your workout performance, it's important to know the potential side effects of consuming caffeine before exercise. By knowing these potential issues, you'll be better equipped to weigh the pros and cons of incorporating coffee into your pre-exercise routine and determine the best approach for your individual needs.

  • May Cause Disturbances in Your Sleep: If you workout in the evening, consuming coffee too close to bedtime can interfere with your ability to fall and stay asleep, potentially disrupting your sleep patterns and affecting overall recovery.
  • Coffee Before Exercise Might Not Be Suitable if You Have Caffeine Sensitivity: Individuals with caffeine sensitivity may experience adverse reactions such as jitteriness, headaches, or rapid heart rate, making it uncomfortable or unsafe to consume coffee before exercise.
  • Might Increase Your Heart Rate and Blood Pressure: Caffeine can stimulate the cardiovascular system, leading to an increased heart rate and blood pressure, which may be problematic for individuals with certain heart conditions or those prone to palpitations.
  • Can Lead to Digestive Discomfort: Coffee is known to stimulate the digestive tract, which can result in stomach cramps, acid reflux, or the need for frequent bathroom breaks during your workout. You may also find that drinking coffee on an empty stomach causes digestive issues.
  • Can Make You Feel Anxious: The stimulant effect of caffeine can sometimes cause heightened anxiety or nervousness, which might negatively impact your focus and overall exercise experience.

What Kind of Coffee Should You Drink Before a Workout?

When choosing the best coffee to drink before working out, consider the source of caffeine, the amount of caffeine you are aiming to digest, and how your body reacts to different types of coffee. Black coffee is often recommended because it contains minimal calories and provides a concentrated dose of caffeine without added sugars or fats, which can cause digestive discomfort or energy crashes. An 8-ounce cup of black, brewed coffee typically contains around 95-100 milligrams of caffeine, making it an effective choice for a pre-workout boost.

Espresso shots are another popular option, particularly for those who prefer a smaller volume of liquid before exercising. A single shot of espresso contains about 63 milligrams of caffeine, allowing you to easily control and adjust your caffeine intake based on your needs and tolerance. A small latte or cappuccino can be suitable for those who enjoy a richer flavor. Still, it's important to keep added ingredients like milk to a minimum to avoid potential digestive issues. Cold brew coffee is also a great alternative, as it generally contains higher caffeine levels than regular coffee and can be refreshing, especially during hot weather or intense workouts.

Coffee as Pre-workout: Dosage

The ideal dosage of coffee before a workout can vary based on individual tolerance and sensitivity to caffeine. Generally, consuming 3-6 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight is considered effective for enhancing athletic performance.7 An average person weighing around 70 kilograms (154 pounds) translates to approximately 210-420 milligrams of caffeine, roughly equivalent to 2-4 cups of coffee. Most studies support the use of around 200 mg of caffeine before exercise as a safe and effective dosage for most individuals, and exceeding the upper limit of recommendations (>6mg/kg body weight) may lead to adverse side effects.7,8 

5 Alternatives to Coffee as a Pre-workout

For those who prefer not to drink coffee, several coffee alternative pre-workout options can provide a similar boost in energy and performance. 

  1. Green tea is an excellent choice. An 8-oz serving provides 25-45mg of caffeine along with beneficial antioxidants. It can enhance alertness and focus without the intensity of coffee, making it suitable for those sensitive to higher caffeine levels. 
  2. Matcha tea, a powdered form of green tea, provides a more concentrated dose of caffeine (up to 180mg) and nutrients, delivering sustained energy and mental clarity.
  3. A pre-workout caffeine supplement specifically formulated for exercise performance often contains caffeine, amino acids like beta-alanine and citrulline, and other performance-enhancing ingredients. 
  4. A non-caffeine option, such as a small portion of fruit, provides natural sugars for quick energy and vitamins and minerals to support overall workout performance. 
  5. Staying hydrated with an electrolyte drink can also help maintain energy levels and prevent dehydration during your workout.

Learn More About How to Improve Blood Sugar Health With Signos’ Expert Advice

If you have more questions on improving your health, fitness, and nutrition, seek the expert advice of the Signos continuous glucose monitor and Signos team. A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can give you the insights to make smarter nutrition and exercise choices. The Signos app provides a unique, personalized program to help you lose weight and reach your health goals. Take this quiz to see if Signos is a good fit for you and reach your goals faster than ever before.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href=should-you-eat-before-or-after-a-workout>When to Fuel Up: Should You Eat Before or After Your Workout?</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Guest, N. S., VanDusseldorp, T. A., Nelson, M. T., Grgic, J., Schoenfeld, B. J., Jenkins, N. D., ... & Campbell, B. I. (2021). International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 18(1), 1.
  2. Tallis, J., Duncan, M. J., & James, R. S. (2015). What can isolated skeletal muscle experiments tell us about the effects of caffeine on exercise performance?. British Journal of Pharmacology, 172(15), 3703-3713.
  3. Harpaz, E., Tamir, S., Weinstein, A., & Weinstein, Y. (2017). The effect of caffeine on energy balance. Journal of basic and clinical physiology and pharmacology, 28(1), 1-10.
  4. Shafii, R. (2020). Review: Fat Wars by Combination of Green Tea Extract and Caffeine, Burning more Calories and Effect on Fat Oxidation in Humans. Int J Food Sci Nutr Diet, 9(1), 434-437.
  5. Hewlett, P., & Smith, A. (2007). Effects of repeated doses of caffeine on performance and alertness: new data and secondary analyses. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, 22(6), 339-350.
  6. Davenport, A. D., Jameson, T. S., Kilroe, S. P., Monteyne, A. J., Pavis, G. F., Wall, B. T., ... & Stephens, F. B. (2020). A randomised, placebo-controlled, crossover study investigating the optimal timing of a caffeine-containing supplement for exercise performance. Sports medicine-open, 6, 1-12.
  7. Higgins, S., Straight, C. R., & Lewis, R. D. (2016). The effects of preexercise caffeinated coffee ingestion on endurance performance: an evidence-based review. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 26(3), 221-239.
  8. Polito, M. D., Grandolfi, K., & De Souza, D. B. (2019). Caffeine and resistance exercise: the effects of two caffeine doses and the influence of individual perception of caffeine. European journal of sport science, 19(10), 1342-1348.

About the author

Sarah is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, graduating from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 2017.

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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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