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Pre-Workout vs Coffee: Which Drink Is Better for a Workout?

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers | Senior Coach
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: June 9, 2023
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Coffee before workout: Is it as effective as a pre-workout?

In the coffee vs pre-workout debate, people ask me this question a lot. People feel that the most crucial ingredient in a pre-workout is caffeine, so they think a cup of espresso is a good alternative.

Can a cup of coffee really be as supportive as a pre-workout to boost performance?

Let’s take a look at ​coffee vs pre-workout to see which is better and how they support your exercises.

What Does Pre Workout Do?

Pre-workout gives you more energy and strength to invest in your fitness routines and achieve your body goals. It also helps decrease muscle fatigue after the workout.

Many pre-workout supplements sometimes get compared to coffee. Drinking coffee increases your caffeine consumption, giving you an energy boost.

Pre-workout is a little different from java, though. ​Apart from the caffeine content, it also contains ingredients that can boost a lot more than just your energy levels for a better workout experience.

Amino acids, creatine, beta-alanine, and vitamins are all included in pre-workout supplements to enhance performance.

These ingredients increase endurance, improve focus, enhance muscle pumps, and support overall workout performance.

While drinking coffee may provide a temporary energy boost, pre-workout supplements offer a comprehensive blend of ingredients that target various aspects of your workout, helping you maximize your training sessions and achieve better results.

​What Are The Pre-workout Ingredients?

man with knife and fork, pre workout supplements on plate, jars

Pre-workout contents vary depending on the product. They all have similar components with a few differences.

For this example, we’ll take a look at my favorite pre-workout from Performance Lab.

  • Creatine: Supports growth, recovery, and training intensity
  • L-Citrulline: Helps the body create more creatine
  • Cordyceps: Has the potential to prevent fatigue
  • L-Glutamine: Supports energy, growth, and repair
  • L-Carnosine: Can enhance your workouts and prevent fatigue
  • Himalayan Pink Salt: Helps your body stay hydrated
  • Maritime Pine Bark Extract: Increases the flow of oxygen

What Are The Perks Of Pre-Workoust?

The perks of drinking a pre-workout for sports nutrition involve increasing your workout performance in the gym or your endurance during long runs. One great benefit is that it increases your energy while also helping your strength grow and prevent muscle pain and muscle soreness.

Apart from the caffeine boost, you can get other perks from a pre-workout drink, including:

  • ​Prevents or delays fatigue during exercise
  • Reduces protein breakdown to help build muscle
  • ​Increases focus
  • Improves blood flow
  • ​Speeds up recovery time
  • ​Increases muscle mass and strength
  • Burns fat

Pre-workout supplements may be a great option to support overall health by boosting body strength, especially if you are continually exercising. Pre-workouts give your body nutrients it needs to push your workouts further. It can be useful for weightlifters, bodybuilders, and athletes looking to boost performance.

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What Are The Side Effects Of Pre-workout?

pre workout supplements in jars, scoop and pills

The side effects are very rare, but one common pre-workout effect is a tingly sensation. It’s temporary and is usually not something to worry about after taking a pre-workout supplement.

Since the caffeine content in a pre-workout is high, I would caution against taking it too late in the day. Caffeine could give you insomnia.

Long-term use may lead to effects like increased heart rate and blood pressure, so you might consider taking breaks from it.

What To Look For In A Pre-Workout?

From a health perspective, an important consideration in choosing a pre-workout supplement is that it should have high-quality ingredients. It’s one of the reasons why I like Performance Lab’s Preworkout so much.

Some nutrients you should consider getting in your pre-workout supplements include:

  • Creatine (To give your exercise more natural energy boost and improve muscularity growth)
  • Caffeine (To boost your energy levels)
  • BCAAs (To help with growth)
  • L-Citrulline (To improve oxygen levels in the blood flow)

There are also some things I would not recommend getting a pre-workout.

The first one is to be wary of proprietary blends. It hides the exact amount of ingredients, so you can’t be sure you’re getting enough dosage for it to make a difference in your health and improve exercise performance.

On that note, the second thing to avoid is under-dosed ingredients. It would be best if you double-checked that the pre-workout supplement contains the correct amount for you.

Can Coffee Be A Substitute For Pre-Workout?

No, coffee can't be a substitute for pre-workout supplements. A cup of coffee can give you plenty of caffeine, but it’s not enough to boost your overall performance.

Pre-workouts or pills with caffeine have other ingredients that support muscle growth, strength, and repair.

What Are The Benefits Of Coffee Consumption?

caffeine tiles and beans

The benefits of coffee are numerous. Many studies show that it is a healthy beverage. Here are only a few of the positive effects:

  • ​Increases energy [1]
  • Boosts your metabolic rate
  • May help you live longer [2]
  • Contains a large number of antioxidants
  • Decaf can be an appetite suppressant [3]

​Coffee is an excellent energy source, and it has a lot of potential health gains.

But some people don't like the taste of coffee, that's why they use caffeine pills. Learn what the differences are between coffee and caffeine pills.

Are There Adverse Effects Of Coffee?

People often want to know if it’s safe to have a cup of coffee grounds before gym time.

You can drink coffee before you exercise. I would avoid any sugary drinks since drinking them black has less harmful effects on your body. It also helps avoid unnecessary calories, which is generally good for your health, especially if you're trying to lose weight.

Full-fat dairy products are loaded with saturated fat, which can increase the levels of bad [LDL] cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

- Sally Poon, Dietician

There is also the risk of building a caffeine tolerance, which would lead to having to drink more caffeine to feel the same level of energy. ​I suggest you don't take drinks with caffeine every day to prevent this effect from happening.

Also, consider the time of day when you'd consume anything caffeinated to avoid sleep disruption. It's especially important if you're sensitive to caffeine. You need not worry about this unwanted side effect if you're taking stim-free pre-workouts.

Is Caffeine The Best Pre-workout?

Caffeine isn't the best pre-workout, although it is an essential aspect of many pre-workouts. ​For intense days in the gym, I find that taking just caffeine isn't enough to keep me energized.

Also, I often get asked about energy drinks. When it comes to ​coffee vs energy drinks, you will get similar amounts of caffeine intake.​ You can take a single serving of an energy drink ​and get as much caffeine as a cup of black coffee.

However, know that energy drinks contain a lot more sugar, calories, and artificial ingredients. In the long run, an energy drink isn’t the best choice for your health.

​I would focus on finding a pre-workout that contains caffeine and other ingredients meant to help other aspects of my ​health.

​Other Interesting Reads:

Should I ​Take Coffee or Pre-Workout?

coffee and pre-workout supplements

Coffee can increase your energy, but it can’t support your muscles the same way a pre-workout does. When it comes to my endurance exercise regime, pre-workouts are, most of the time, the better option. Here our list of recommended pre-workout you could check:

I like using Performance Lab’s Pre-Workout because it has all of the ingredients I need to power ​up my high-intensity exercise routine while supporting my strength. I find that it pre-workouts can help ​if you're trying to lose some weight, as it can act as a thermogenic fat-burner as well.

Black coffee does have benefits. If you are looking for a healthy beverage with nutrients and caffeine, then java is still a good choice. I like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters for the days I’m not working out but need an energy boost.

Are you a coffee or pre-workout fan? Which one works best for you? Let me know in the comments!


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