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Should You Drink Caffeine Before A Workout?

Should You Drink Caffeine Before a Workout?

Within the fitness industry, many have debated whether to drink caffeine before a workout or not. Whilst there are some benefits to this consumption, such as aiding muscle recovery, there are also downsides too. 

That's why OriGym has created this comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about coffee and exercise, spanning topics such as:

If you’d like to learn more about the positive effects of caffeine on the body, we’d recommend enrolling on OriGym’s Advanced Sports Nutrition course

Alternatively, you can explore more qualifications by downloading our free prospectus, and discover how you find success in the fitness industry. 

What You Need To Know About Caffeine Before Exercise

Caffeine is a natural stimulant that is found in food and drinks such:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Cacao plants
  • Energy drinks 

Many of us consume caffeine on a regular basis, with research showing that 80% of adults consume at least one caffeinated beverage per day. 

However, for those who don’t consume it through their food or drinks, caffeine is still available in the form of tablets and powders. For some insight into this, please refer to our article discussing the best pre-workout supplements.

But, what happens to the body when caffeine is consumed?

Caffeine is often referred to as a psychoactive substance, one that can be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream to circulate around the body and brain. 

It affects the brain by blocking neurotransmitters such as adenosine, which is responsible for relaxing the brain and making you feel tired.

Caffeine also stimulates your central nervous system, resulting in an elevated heart rate and blood pressure. From this, you may feel a slight adrenaline rush, prompting you to feel more alert and awake. 

Now, because caffeine can help you to feel alert and less tired, you may find that having a coffee before a workout will provide additional energy. We will discuss this and more benefits of caffeine before exercise in the next section! 

Benefits of Caffeine Before a Workout

#1 - Boosted Metabolism

Did you know that drinking a cup of coffee before exercise can help to boost fat-burning effects?

Your metabolism is responsible for converting the food that you consume into energy, and a boosted metabolism, therefore, means that this process occurs at a more rapid rate. 

This equates to more calories being used for energy, which will, in turn, promote a greater fat-burning effect.

A 2021 study examined the effects that coffee had upon 15 men’s metabolic rates following a workout. Participants consumed 3 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight 30 minutes before exercising, while the remainder took a decaffeinated placebo. 

The study concluded that those who took a dose of caffeine saw an increase in fat oxidation throughout their workout, meaning that fat-burning effects were more prominent compared with the placebo participants.

We can therefore state that having a pre-workout coffee can be beneficial in promoting greater fat burning effects in those looking to lose weight. This in large part is down to the metabolism, which will work harder in order to burn more calories. 

So, if you’re being more mindful of the number of the scales, why not consider having a coffee before the gym to benefit from its enhanced fat-burning properties.

 

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#2 - Helps With Muscle Recovery and Pain

Some readers may have clicked on this article with questions in mind such as - ‘Is consuming a caffeine drink before a workout a good idea?’

In this instance, if you’d like to benefit from a reduction of muscle pain whilst simultaneously promoting a quicker recovery time, we’d recommend drinking coffee before the gym.

Caffeinated drinks, such as tea and coffee, contain polyphenols, a large family of organic compounds that are naturally found in other plant foods such as:

  • Berries
  • Herbs and Spices
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Nuts
  • Olives 

Polyphenols function in a similar way to antioxidants in the sense that they neutralise harmful free radicals within the body. 

If left untreated, free radicals can cause damage to cells within the body, leading to an increased risk of conditions such as heart disease and cancer. 

But, what is the relationship between polyphenols and muscle recovery?

Research suggests that caffeine helps your muscles to replenish their energy stores at a faster rate, meaning that recovery occurs faster. 

Polyphenols increase blood flow to recovering muscles which can reduce inflammation in order to optimise your exercise performance and recovery rate. 

So, if you approached this article wondering how much caffeine to take before a workout, then just a cup of tea, coffee or an energy drink is enough to enhance your recovery process, whilst also aiding in energy levels during your workout. 

#3 - Enhance Your Performance 

Now that we’ve covered how coffee before a workout can improve your recovery process, let’s now discuss in detail how caffeine can enhance your overall athletic performance. 

As mentioned earlier, caffeine is great for promoting alertness and concentration! Therefore, starting a workout without it may prompt you to feel tired or uninspired, meaning the likelihood of not pushing yourself will naturally increase. 

Conversely, if you drink the likes of coffee before a workout you’re more likely to be energised and ready to exercise. 

Physiologically, caffeine can improve your muscle contraction while also helping you to tolerate general muscle fatigue. 

This means that you may experience an increase in confidence when working with a new machine, or incorporating an additional set into your routine after consuming a pre-workout coffee. 

However, for those of you who prefer to take supplements and intend on consuming caffeine pills before a workout, then you should be aware that the recommended dosage is 50mg. 

This is enough caffeine to provide the average gym-goer with enough energy to reap the benefits of an enhanced workout. 

#4 - Boosts Brain Function

When discussing the benefits of caffeine before exercise many may assume that all these perks are physical. However, the consumption of caffeine can actually lead to improved brain function.

This is due to the fact that the consumption of caffeine actually leads to the release of the bodily chemicals adrenaline and dopamine. But how exactly do these chemicals help to improve the function of our brains?

  • Adrenaline is a hormone that is released by the adrenal glands and is responsible for increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. Adrenaline works alongside cortisol, your primary stress hormone, to increase glucose in the bloodstream. This results in you experiencing a greater level of energy which, in turn, enhances brain functions. 
    • Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that communicates with brain cells to influence how you feel. When you consume caffeine, dopamine surges around your body to bring you pleasure - While this has a positive effect on your mood and mental wellbeing, it also enhances your motivation levels to complete a good workout

    Now, you may be wondering how much caffeine to take before a workout in order to reap these benefits. Consuming 200-400 mg of caffeine 30-60-minutes before a workout is an ideal dose and adequate time for these chemicals to be released by the brain and to take action. 

    Ultimately, consuming caffeine such as coffee before the gym can be a great way to enhance cognitive functions and boost your motivation levels. 

    #5 - Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease

    Consuming caffeine before exercise can also help to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. 

    This may come as a surprise to some, as it is widely assumed that caffeine is ‘bad’ for your heart health due to the fact that it increases your heart rate and blood pressure. 

    However, it’s worth noting that, whilst caffeine does increase your blood pressure, this is only a temporary effect, which is minimised over time if you consume caffeinated drinks more frequently. 

    Studies have found that consuming more than one cup of caffeinated coffee a day can help to reduce the risk of heart failure. The research outlines that the risk of heart failure fell by 5% - 12% when compared with those who drank no coffee.

    Furthermore, whilst on the topic of heart health according to the British Heart Foundation, consuming between 4-5 cups of caffeinated coffee a day should not negatively affect your cholesterol levels or heart rhythm.

    So, if you approached this article wanting to get an insight into the benefits of coffee before exercise, then a reduced risk of heart disease is another great reason why you may want to implement caffeine into your diet. 

    However, whilst we have spent time discussing the benefits of combining coffee and exercise, in order to ensure this argument is balanced we now need to turn our attention to potential drawbacks. 

    If you’re enjoying our exploration into whether or not you should drink caffeine before a workout, we think these other OriGym articles will also be of interest to you:

     

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    Potential Downsides of Caffeine Before a Workout

    Now that we’ve touched upon some of the benefits of consuming a caffeine drink before a workout, we’ll now highlight some potential disadvantages so that you feel well informed before implementing caffeine into your pre-workout routine.

    #1 - Can Cause Anxiousness

    A potential downside of drinking coffee before exercise is that it can enhance feelings of anxiousness. 

    This is due to the fact that the drinks can increase your heart rate, which may cause bouts of shakiness to occur throughout the body. 

    From this, many individuals report experiencing a lack of motivation or general feelings of gym anxiety. 

    For those who are unaware, the phrase ‘gym anxiety’ is used to describe a feeling of fear or anxiety associated with being judged by other gym-goers. Caffeine can enhance these negative feelings, and can result in an unfulfilling workout.

    A potential solution to this could be to take just one caffeine pill before a workout. Tablets such as ProPlus have a caffeine content of 50mg, which is significantly lower than the average cup of coffee (95 mg of caffeine).

    By taking this caffeine pill before workouts you can directly control how much of the stimulant is entering your system, thus, reducing its potential effects on the body.

    #2 - May Affect Sleeping Pattern 

    Another potential downside to having a coffee before the gym is that it may affect the quality of your sleeping pattern. 

    As mentioned earlier, caffeine can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, but as a result of this your cognitive functions will also be enhanced. This may make it significantly harder to ‘turn off’ at night, learning to longer periods of restlessness. 

    Furthermore, despite caffeine absorbing into your bloodstream rapidly, it can actually stay within your system for up to 5-hours. 

    So, whilst you may drink a coffee or energy drink long before it's time to sleep, your body may still be feeling the effects for hours to come. 

    For this reason, we’d advise thinking about the time in which you exercise, before deciding whether it's suitable to drink caffeine. 

    You know your body better than anyone, therefore if you know that drinking a coffee before a workout will keep you up at night perhaps it's best to avoid the caffeinated beverage altogether. 

    Alternatively, you can switch your workout routine to ensure it doesn’t fall close to your sleeping schedule.

    #3 - Can Cause an Upset Stomach

    A potential downside of consuming caffeine tablets before a workout is that they can stimulate your gastrointestinal tract. This may lead to you experiencing an upset stomach including feeling nauseous and/or diarrhoea. 

    This occurs due to the fact that coffee is acidic, and when consumed it can irritate the lining of your stomach, causing abdominal cramps that can make you feel sick.

    Furthermore, caffeinated drinks are also known to have laxative properties, meaning that drinking two or more cups could potentially cause diarrhoea. 

    However, many coffee lovers find that one of the benefits of cold brew is that it can actually help to reduce the levels of acid within the stomach. But ultimately, you need to listen to your own body and find a form of caffeine that will allow you to work out without any discomfort.

    #4 - Could Cause Shakiness

    Having caffeine before a workout is great for boosting your energy levels, enhancing performance and helping with muscle recovery.  However, as already discussed, it can also cause bouts of shakiness.

    It’s important to be aware of this by-product of consuming caffeine before a workout, as it can actually affect aspects of your performance such as stability.

    But, don’t worry - there are ways of getting rid of caffeine jitters quickly. 

    • Drink Water - water will help to flush the caffeine out of your system. Try and have a glass of water alongside every caffeine pill or caffeinated drink to prevent experiencing shakiness.
    • Engage With Cardio Workouts - if you are experiencing caffeine jitters, consider doing some light cardio until it passes. Sweating is another great way of flushing out the caffeine in your system without posing the risk of injury with heavy weights. 
    • Drink Chamomile Tea - The herbs in chamomile tea can neutralise the effects of caffeine on the body and help jitters to subside.

    So, don’t worry you don’t have to cut out your caffeine drink before a workout entirely. Instead, opt for one of our easy solutions to ensure that your performance isn’t affected too severely.

    When to Take Caffeine Before a Workout

    Now that we’ve covered some of the benefits and potential downsides to taking caffeine before workouts, you may now be wondering what time is best to consume this stimulant.

    Research suggests that regular athletes should drink caffeinated drinks approximately 45-60 minutes before a workout. This gives the caffeine sufficient time to absorb into the bloodstream and to reach peak effectiveness. 

    It is thought that a caffeine’s peak begins to reduce around 3-hours after consuming it. Therefore, we’d encourage you to complete your workout within this time frame to reap the maximum benefits that caffeine provides. 

    This rule of waiting 45-60 minutes can be applied to every form of caffeine, be it coffee, energy drinks, or supplements. 

    But now you know when to drink, you may be questioning how much caffeine to have before a workout?

    How Much Caffeine to Take Before a Workout?

    As stated numerous times throughout this article, the average cup of coffee contains 96 mg of caffeine. 

    However, most regular gym goers typically consume almost double the amount of caffeine before a workout, with the average amount being close to 200mg.

    This was noted by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, who further elaborated that caffeine is most effective in athletes when it's consumed in doses between 0.9-2.7 mg per pound of body weight. 

    For example, for a 154lb (70kg) individual, it is recommended to stick between 138-415 mg of caffeine before a workout. However, while this is the recommendation, it is also important to listen to your body when consuming caffeine. 

    This may be too much for athletes who aren’t used to drinking a coffee before the gym, as such, your workout may be negatively affected. 

    Now that you know how much to drink, you can now turn your attention to what you could potentially drink to obtain this caffeine boost!

    What Type of Coffee Could You Drink Before a Workout?

    We realise that not everyone is a caffeine connoisseur, so if you’re new to drinking coffee before a workout this is the section for you!

    Here, we are going to break down variations of coffee and how they can benefit your workout. From this, you will be able to make an informed decision on what will work best for you.

     

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    #1 - Milk-Based Coffees 

    Milk-based coffee drinks are the ones that you will typically find in your local coffee shop, this includes the likes of:

    • Lattes 
    • Cappuccinos
    • Mochas 

    For those who are unaware, these variations differ as latte milk is smooth and silky, whereas cappuccinos have a more frothy consistency. Similarly, a cappuccino is practically identical to a latte, but will also contain chocolate too.

    These pre-workout coffees will not only provide your body with the necessary boost of caffeine it needs, but with the added inclusion of milk they will also likely fill you up for longer periods of time.

    This can benefit you as it means that you won’t necessarily have to consume a pre-workout snack or meal and can instead sustain your energy levels from the drink alone.

    However, due to the fact that these caffeinated drinks contain large quantities of milk, we’d strongly advise you to always wait for 45-minutes before starting your workout. 

    This is due to the fact that dairy can cause feelings of fullness, which may prompt you to feel more sluggish than usual, leading to an unfulfilling workout. 

    To avoid this you could swap this for a milk alternative, for further information on this matter check out our article on the benefits of oat milk.

    #2 - Coffee Shots

    A good alternative to taking a caffeine pill before a workout is a coffee shot, such as an:

    • Expresso 
    • Macchiato

    An espresso is a small amount of coffee that can be served hot or cold. This is the same amount of coffee as you would consume in other types of coffee such as a latte or cappuccino, but without the milk. 

    A macchiato is similar to espressos with the addition of a very small amount of foamy milk. The benefit of these coffee options is that you can consume the same amount of caffeine as you would any other type of coffee without the extra milk products.

    This can benefit your workout experience, as it significantly reduces the risk of feelings of uneasiness. However, many may prefer other coffee types as espressos and macchiatos can be very intense in taste. 

    #3 - Black Coffee

    Similarly, black coffees will be larger variations of these shots that contain added water to reduce this intense flavour. This includes the likes of:

    • Americanos 
    • Filter Coffees

    The benefits of black coffee are well documented, including boosted energy levels, and a faster fat burning effect. 

    However, due to the intense nature of the taste and caffeine content, some of the downsides of black coffee can include an affected sleeping pattern. As with any kind of pre-workout coffee, be sure to drink this in moderation to reap the benefits and avoid any potential drawbacks. 

    #4 - Iced Coffee 

    Last but not least, a final alternative to consuming caffeine tablets before a workout is an iced coffee. 

    As mentioned earlier, a downside to coffee is that it can stimulate your gastrointestinal tract, resulting in experiencing an upset stomach. However, this typically only occurs with hot coffee, as it is more acidic than its iced counterpart.

    So, should you want to drink coffee before an exercise class, but want to reduce the risk of feeling nauseous, consider opting for an iced option. 

    This will be easier on your stomach whilst still providing you with the necessary hit of caffeine required to get through the workout.

    Before You Go!

    As evident from the list we presented, there are several fantastic benefits to drinking coffee before a workout. 

    You may experience some trial and error before finding out which variation of caffeine works better for you, so don’t be afraid to experiment. 

    Remember, if you’d like to learn more about the effects that caffeine and other stimulants have on the body you can enrol in OriGym’s Advanced Sports Nutrition course. Upon graduation, you will have acquired specialist skills and knowledge required to immediately launch your career. 

    You can also download our free prospectus in order to discover more about all of OriGym’s industry-leading courses.

    References

    1. Heckman, M.A., Weil, J. and De Mejia, E.G. (2010), Caffeine (1, 3, 7-trimethylxanthine) in Foods: A Comprehensive Review on Consumption, Functionality, Safety, and Regulatory Matters. Journal of Food Science, 75: R77-R87. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2010.01561.x
    2. Ramírez-Maldonado, M., Jurado-Fasoli, L., del Coso, J. et al. Caffeine increases maximal fat oxidation during a graded exercise test: is there a diurnal variation?. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 18, 5 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-020-00400-6
    3. Victor Maridakis, Patrick J. O’Connor, Gary A. Dudley, Kevin K. McCully, Caffeine Attenuates Delayed-Onset Muscle Pain and Force Loss Following Eccentric Exercise, The Journal of Pain, Volume 8, Issue 3, 2007, Pages 237-243, ISSN 1526-5900, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2006.08.006.
    4. Association Between Coffee Intake and Incident Heart Failure Risk, Laura M. Stevens, BS, Erik Linstead, PhD, Jennifer L. Hall, PhD, David P. Kao, MD, 9 Feb 2021, https://doi.org/10.1161/CIRCHEARTFAILURE.119.006799, Circulation: Heart Failure. 2021;14:e006799
    5. Guest NS, VanDusseldorp TA, Nelson MT, Grgic J, Schoenfeld BJ, Jenkins NDM, Arent SM, Antonio J, Stout JR, Trexler ET, Smith-Ryan AE, Goldstein ER, Kalman DS, Campbell BI. International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021 Jan 2;18(1):1. doi: 10.1186/s12970-020-00383-4. PMID: 33388079; PMCID: PMC7777221.

    Written by Emily Evans

    Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

    Emily studied English Language and Literature at the University of Sheffield, graduating in 2021 with a 2:1 BA honours degree. Alongside her degree, she also gained experience in student publication as Forge Press’ Lifestyle Editor and Deputy Editor for Post-Production. This is where her love for content writing stemmed from, which also led her to OriGym. Outside of her work, Emily will either be found on a long hike, at the gym or making a mess trying new healthy recipes in her kitchen!

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