Isaac Robertson
Published by Isaac Robertson
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: May 18, 2021

A good ol' cup of joe can give you a much-needed energy boost in the mornings—but can all that caffeine also fuel your workouts?

To answer this question, we researched tons of articles and sought experts’ opinions to see if coffee can really improve your exercise performance.

Here's what we learned.

Coffee as a Pre-Workout

white mug filled with coffee

Your local supplement store likely carries shelves upon shelves of pre-workout supplements and drinks that claim to amp up your gains and sports performance.

But if you’re the type of person who likes it “natural,” a simple cup of coffee—without adding cream and sugar—might just do the trick.

Black coffee actually offers the same benefits as these products because they often contain the same active ingredient: caffeine.

Athletes swear by this stimulant, which has been proven to be effective in increasing your strength, endurance, and overall athletic performance, provided that you’re taking it along with food.

"Your body still needs an adequate amount of carbohydrates, fat, and protein to power through an entire workout. If you want to add coffee to your pre-fueling plan, be sure to add it in addition to your normal meal or snack, not in place of it.”

 

- Megan Medrano, Nutritionist

Another great thing about using black coffee before working out is that you know what you're ingesting.

The typical ingredients in a cup of coffee are milk and sugar—if you add them. But for many pre-workout drinks, you never really know what’s in them because they’re not regulated by the FDA.

That means some brands can get away with shady proprietary blends; some of them might not even disclose every ingredient they use on the product label.

So if you want to err on the side of caution, you won't have to look far—your pantry likely has coffee in stock.

But if you don't have one at home, all you have to do is swing by your local coffee shop to get a steaming cup of joe.

Here are six reasons why you should drink black coffee before a workout.

6 Benefits of Drinking Coffee Pre-Workout

woman using a measuring tape on her belly, man in an intense workout

1. Improved Alertness and Concentration

The caffeine in coffee increases your brain activity. This substance helps you feel more awake and alert, making you feel more energized during your workout.

2. Accelerated Weight Loss

If you’re watching your weight, this is perhaps the greatest benefit of having coffee before you head out for a sweat session.

When consumed before exercise, coffee can cause your body to use fat cells as an energy source instead of glycogen.

The high amounts of caffeine in black coffee can also boost your metabolism, helping you burn more calories as you work out.

3. Enhanced Athletic Performance

Many studies had shown a link between caffeine intake before exercise and increased athletic performance.

A report published in Sports Medicine describes caffeine as a powerful “ergogenic aid” and mentions that athletes train longer and exhibit greater power output after caffeine ingestion.

This is especially true for endurance exercises and high-intensity workouts.

4. Improved Focus

Just as coffee helps you jumpstart your day, it does the same for you when you exercise. The stimulating effects of coffee may improve your mental focus, helping you concentrate better on your reps and sets.

Some research even suggests that coffee can improve your exercise endurance by making it seem more tolerable [1].

5. Reduced Muscle Pain and Soreness

A study done at the University of Illinois showed that caffeine consumption prior to working out decreased pain during exercise [2].

While a cup of coffee isn’t some magical concoction that can cure sore muscles, research suggests that it might have a positive effect on both in-exercise and delayed-onset muscle soreness.

6. Reduces Risk of Disease

A cup of brewed coffee contains a high amount of antioxidants that protect your body against damage from free radicals.

Coffee consumption has also been found to have an inverse correlation with diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and certain forms of cancer [3].

4. Side Effects

woman hugging her stomach, bald man in a frustrated expression

If you're not a coffee drinker, you're more likely to experience some unpleasant side effects after drinking it.

Coffee’s caffeine content can cause your heart rate and blood pressure to shoot up. Some people might be overwhelmed with the mental stimulation, too.

Here are a few more reasons why you might want to skip drinking coffee before a workout.

1. It Can Make You Feel Jittery

If you’re not used to the effects of caffeine, or you happen to drink more coffee than usual, it can give you the jitters.

Feeling shaky during your workout can make you feel weak and, worse, cause you to drop heavyweights at the gym.

So if you’ve ever gotten the shakes from coffee, it’s probably best to reserve it for your breakfast drink.

2. It Can Wreak Havoc on Your Digestion

Coffee is known to trigger peristalsis, the wave-like contractions of your intestinal muscles that move things along. That’s why “coffee poop” happens to some people.

Exercise is also known to stimulate the digestive tract. Add coffee to that, and you’ve got a combo that will send you running to the bathroom.

3. It Can Cause Anxiety

Coffee increases your heart rate, which is likely the reason it makes some people feel anxious.

If you already struggle with anxiety, coffee or any caffeinated beverage may not be the best choice for your pre-workout.

So if you have low caffeine tolerance, then a good caffeine-free pre-workout or even a plain water—a natural energy booster—might be a more suitable substitute for you.

How To Use It as a Pre-Workout

shirtless man sipping coffee

Timing is key if you plan to use coffee as a pre-workout supplement.

You might already feel your buzz kicking in seconds after your first sip, but that doesn’t mean it’s been fully absorbed by your system.

Coffee wakes your body up by distributing caffeine into your bloodstream and has a half-life of five to six hours, so its stimulating effects will only hit your body during this period [4].

To take advantage of this caffeine boost, you’re going to want to drink a cup of joe or take a shot of espresso roughly 40 to 80 minutes before you hit the gym when maximum caffeine concentration hits your system.

As for the dosage, it actually doesn’t matter. Whether you’re drinking a regular Starbucks coffee or a highly concentrated brand, the saturation will still peak within the 40 to 80-minute mark.

However, just be sure that you don’t go beyond 400 milligrams of caffeine a day [5]. That’s the rough equivalent of four cups of brewed coffee.

Most studies recommend 5mg to 6mg of caffeine per kilo of body weight, so if you’re a 150-pound athlete, your recommended dose would be around 340mg to 409mg for a moderate dose.

FAQs

Is it okay to drink coffee before a workout?

It’s okay to drink coffee before a workout. In fact, taking it around 40-80 minutes before you exercise will allow you to enjoy its peak effectiveness and benefits, such as increased energy levels and free fatty acid mobilization.

Which coffee is best for pre-workout?

Any coffee without added sugars, cream, or any kind of milk is best for pre-workout. In other words, black coffee is the way to go.

Is caffeine good for pre-workout?

Caffeine is a very good pre-workout, that’s why it’s often added to sports nutrition supplements.

It’s one of the most popular stimulants around and is known to offer a slew of health benefits, such as mental alertness, accelerated fat-burning, and enhanced physical performance.

Bottom Line

A cup of joe can be an excellent pre-workout, especially when you use it right.

Keep in mind, though, that too much coffee can lead to dehydration, so make sure you don't go over four cups a day. Also, remember to increase your water intake during training days.

But if you really can't tolerate coffee, don't fret.

If you eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, and manage your stress levels, you'll be able to reach your fitness goals—with or without a pre-workout. But, if you're looking for good pre-workout recommendations, you should read this post on the best organic pre-workouts.

Do you drink coffee before exercising? Let us know how it's worked for you in the comments below.


References:

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/23263564_Caffeine_Improves_Physical_and_Cognitive_Performance_during_Exhaustive_Exercise
  2. https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/205989
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-latest-scoop-on-the-health-benefits-of-coffee-2017092512429
  4. https://www.news-medical.net/health/Caffeine-Pharmacology.aspx
  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678

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