Is Coffee a Good Pre-Workout? (Benefits & Side Effects)

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Published by Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: November 29, 2023
FACT CHECKED by Dr. Kristy Dayanan, BS, MD
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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 many articles and sought experts’ opinions to see if coffee can improve your exercise performance.

Darcy Ogdon-Nolan, founder of The Bircher Bar, says that caffeine can be a double-edged sword in acting as a performance booster.

Here's what we learned.

Quick Summary

  • Coffee is a good natural pre-workout as it improves alertness, promotes weight loss, and enhances athletic performance.
  • Take your coffee roughly between 40-60 minutes before kickstarting your exercises.
  • Drinking coffee 40-60 minutes before exercise maximizes caffeine's benefits and avoids added sugars or creams.
  • I've found that a moderate amount of coffee before workouts provides a perfect energy lift without the side effects of pre-workout supplements.

Coffee as a Pre-Workout

white mug filled with coffee

Supplement stores are full of pre-workout options, yet plain black coffee could be a natural alternative.

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

If you're looking for good pre-workout recommendations, you should read this post on the best organic pre-workouts.

Athletes have long used caffeine, found in pre-workouts, to boost strength and endurance, especially when consumed 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

Black coffee offers transparency in ingredients, unlike some unregulated pre-workout drinks.

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

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

But if you don't have one at home, you must 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

From my morning runs to weight sessions, the caffeine in coffee has consistently heightened my alertness, turning sluggish starts into dynamic workouts.

2. Accelerated Weight Loss

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

I've noticed a significant difference in my energy sourcing during workouts after a pre-run espresso, tapping into fat reserves rather than 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

Reflecting on my track training, the studies ring true; a pre-race coffee has often given me that extra edge in 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.

Depending on factors like sensitivity and body weight, there might not be a fixed optimal amount of caffeine intake for better athletic performance.

4. Improved Focus

My personal experience aligns with this; coffee not only kickstarts my day but also sharpens my focus on the gym floor, ensuring I'm fully present for each rep and set.

A report from Researchgate 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].

3 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 caffeine.

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.

Related Article: Why Does Pre Workout Make You Poop?

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.
It's important to note that individual tolerance to caffeine can vary based on body weight and sensitivity.

Factors such as metabolism, overall health, and caffeine consumption habits can also affect how your body responds to coffee as a pre-workout. Remember to listen to your body and adjust to optimize your pre-workout routine.

The Caffeine Impact on Effort Perception

Caffeine significantly alters effort perception and enhances physical endurance in three ways:

  1. Increased release of beta-endorphins.
  2. Improvement in endurance and performance.
  3. Delay in fatigue due to action on the nervous system.


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.


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About The Author

Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Benedict Ang, CPT, PN1-NC is an ex-National Soccer player turned MMA and Kickboxing champion, with ACE CPT and PN1-NC certifications. His advice is rooted in education and experience, ensuring that readers receive scientific and battle-tested insights. His mission is to empower his clients and readers to realize their potential and become the best versions of themselves.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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