I have spent years at the gym for personal fitness and as a trainer. From day one, I have used pre-workout supplements. I have tried the whole gamut of pre-workouts, from stimulant-free to caffeine-heavy.
Pre-workout caffeine, if tolerated well, can increase cognitive function, energy, and endurance, all things you won’t regret, but how much caffeine is ideal?
I’ve dived deeper into the scientific literature and discussed the papers with a physician, so read on to find out what I’ve discovered.
- The optimal dosage of acute caffeine supplementation to benefit performance is 3-6 mg/kg of body mass.
- Most pre-workout supplements contain 150-300 mg of caffeine in a single serving, equalling approximately 1-3 cups (8 oz.) of coffee.
- Recent research shows consuming caffeine improves the exercise performance of endurance athletes, high-intensity exercise and aids fat loss.
How Much Caffeine Is in Your Pre-workout? (And Why It Matters)
How much caffeine exactly is in your pre-workout supplement can vary drastically.
Your pre-workout may contain anywhere between 150-300 mg of caffeine per serving, some pre-workouts have even more, and some pre-workouts don't have caffeine at all.
It is essential to read the label and understand the caffeine content to decide which pre-workout is best for you based on your fitness goals, health, tolerance, and personal preference.
First, let’s look at what caffeine is and what benefits caffeine consumption before exercise gives you.
What is Caffeine, and What Does It Do?
Caffeine is a stimulant that affects the activity in your central nervous system, increasing your wakefulness, energy levels, concentration, and focus. Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive (affecting the mind) drug globally .
Caffeine is available in many forms, including caffeine pills, gum, gels, chews, and sports supplements.
Moderate caffeine intake might aid various fitness areas, including weight loss, alertness, response time, and stamina, so let’s explore the benefits in some more detail.
An article, “International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Caffeine and Exercise Performance,” supports the benefit of consuming caffeine before athletic activity in the following areas :
- Supplementing with caffeine can enhance muscular endurance, movement velocity, muscular strength, sprinting, jumping, and throwing. Caffeine was also shown to boost sport-specific actions in aerobic and anaerobic activities.
- Aerobic endurance appears to benefit the most from caffeine supplements.
- The optimal dose for improved performance is 3-6mg/kg body weight; higher doses increase the risk of side effects without added performance benefits.
- The most common timing of caffeine ingestion is 60 minutes before exercise.
- Alternative sources of caffeine: tablets, chewing gum, mouth rinses, energy gels, and those may also improve performance, primarily aerobic.
- Energy drinks and pre-workout supplements enhance both anaerobic and aerobic exercise.
Studies show that caffeine intake by endurance athletes before an event improves athletic performance; however, the results can vary widely based on timing, caffeine ingestion (coffee, pill, or pre-workout supplement), and caffeine tolerance.
Research suggests that habitual caffeine consumption influences endurance performance benefits.
You may find it beneficial to abstain from caffeine use seven days before the athletic event to reap the most ergogenic aid (reduction of fatigue) .
Caffeine’s benefit on high-intensity exercise has mixed results and seems to impact trained athletes more than untrained ones.
A small study showed men who participated in high-intensity cycling felt less fatigue and increased endurance after consuming 4/mg per kg of body mass compared to those in the placebo group .
A systematic review evaluated the effect of supplementing with 3-6 mg/kg of body mass 30-90 minutes before exercise reduced participants’ perceived exertion .
Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, directly messaging the fat cells to break down fat by increasing epinephrine (adrenaline) .
Of course, for this to be effective, you maintain a caloric deficit known as negative energy balance.
Caffeine may also increase your metabolic rate, which means you burn more calories at rest, which can aid negative energy balance.
If your goal is fat loss, consuming caffeine in cycles may be beneficial to avoid tolerance, reducing caffeine efficacy related to fat loss.
“Caffeine can help release stored fat from fat cells, especially before and at the end of a workout. It can also help you burn more calories.”
-Rudy Mawer, MSc, CISSN.
How Much of It Should You Have Before a Workout?
Before a workout, you should take a moderate caffeine dose of 3-6mg/kg body mass. Most pre-workout supplements offer the optimal dosage to enhance performance .
Does More Caffeine Mean a Better Pre-Workout?
More caffeine does not necessarily mean a better workout. A low or moderate dose of caffeine (3-6 mg/kg of body mass) is the most effective way to boost performance during a workout.
Higher dosages do not appear to increase performance any further and can be even detrimental in some other regards, but more on that later.
Caffeine Content in Pre-workout vs. Coffee
A cup of black coffee contains approximately 100 mg of caffeine, while a single pre-workout serving can have anywhere between 150-475 mg .
While drinking coffee can work as an effective pre-workout, supplements offers additional ingredients to enhance your workout by aiding muscle growth and recovery, improving blood flow, boosting nitric oxide, and preventing fatigue.
Related Article: Pre-Workout vs Coffee
Moderate amounts of caffeine usually do not cause adverse reactions for most individuals and can effectively improve performance response.
Too much caffeine can have adverse effects like high blood pressure, gastrointestinal (GI) issues, tingling, and rapid heart rate .
“A caffeine intake of 200 mg per dose, and up to 400 mg per day, is generally considered safe. Pregnant women should limit their daily intake to 200 mg or less.” -Alina Petre, MS, RD.
Types of Caffeine Found in Pre-Workouts
Caffeine can be listed in various ways when reading the label of a pre-workout supplement. Here are three common types of caffeine found in pre-workout supplements.
Caffeine anhydrous comes from the seeds and leaves of coffee plants, and “anhydrous” in the name simply means without water.
After harvesting, caffeine is extracted from the plant and dehydrated, resulting in a highly concentrated caffeine powder .
Di-caffeine malate also referred to as Infinergy, is a patented combination of caffeine and malic acid, resulting in a product that is approximately 75% caffeine and 25% malic acid, according to the manufacturer.
The manufacturer claims the benefits of caffeine for a longer duration and without the crash.
Caffeine citrate (CAFCIT) is a synthetic combination of caffeine anhydrous, citric acid monohydrate, and sodium citrate dihydrate.
Individuals outside of healthcare or pharmaceutical settings may not know as much about it, but it is a standard apnea treatment for premature infants and migraines .
Caffeine citrate has gained traction amongst many gym-goers because they believe the caffeine blood level peaks faster than other caffeine sources giving you an immediate boost.
Do All Pre-Workouts Have Caffeine?
No, not all pre-workouts have caffeine, and those can be a good choice for individuals who don’t tolerate caffeine well or prefer not to consume caffeine. Besides stimulant-free pre-workout, some options offer a low dose of caffeine if you prefer not to overdo it.
How Many Mg Of Caffeine Is Too Much?
Over 400 mg of caffeine daily is too much for most healthy adults, equal to approximately four eight-ounce cups of coffee.
Teens should limit caffeine to about 100 mg of caffeine per day, which is about one cup of coffee or two cans of soft drinks.
Individuals with health conditions like heart disease or high blood pressure, people taking anti-anxiety medications, or women who are pregnant and breastfeeding should avoid caffeine .
The Takeaway on Caffeine in Pre-workout
Popular pre-workouts offer a wide range of caffeine content, from 150 mg per serving to high doses of 300 mg. Remember, sometimes less is more, meaning you probably won’t get superhuman abilities with extreme doses of caffeine.
The best benefit comes from the optimized amounts and the right combination with other active ingredients, as found in the following pre-workouts:
Whether you are an endurance athlete, someone looking to burn fatter, or a fitness junkie like myself, a caffeine pre-workout is the perfect complement to your training session.
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