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Coffee Before a Workout: Caffeine Crash or Energy Booster?

 

A shot of caffeine can be the perfect shake-up which is why so many people find that they crave that cup of coffee to help them kick their brain into gear. Famed for dragging you out of that hazy morning slump, there's a reason we all hit the coffee shop for that cup of joe before hitting work.

But what about downing a cup pre-workout? Can coffee consumption before your yoga class, your gym session, or your home fitness routine lead to a better sweat session or should you skip a coffee before workout?

Here, we break down all the pros and cons that come with a pre workout coffee so you can make a fully informed choice about when to get your caffeine fix.

 

Benefits of Drinking Coffee Before a Workout

 

All coffee lovers will tell you that there are plenty of benefits that come with a cup of brewed coffee. Lifting brain fog, giving you an energy boost, and potentially increasing that dopamine, even some athletes swear by a pre-workout drink of roast coffee or even a cooling sip of iced coffee to get them prepped for a tough workout.

But can caffeine consumption really help your sweat sesh or does the science say otherwise?

Shena Jaramillo MS, RD says that "caffeine can be beneficial to a workout as it can help to sustain the duration of the work-out." Moderate doses of caffeine help "transition the primary fuel" used in exercise, prompting our bodies to switch to fat as the predominant substrate during activity.  

This, in turn, allows us to workout for longer periods of time, which could be beneficial for your fitness goals.

Let's dive in a little more to all the benefits that can come from grabbing your coffee mug before you workout.

 

1. Improve Performance

Any coffee drinker out there will be stoked to hear that sipping an A.M cappuccino or having a shot of black coffee can improve their performance and get their metabolism rolling. Studies have shown that consuming coffee before your workouts can help you to burn more calories and up your metabolism by up to 11%.

Coffee could also help to improve your blood circulation which helps your muscles and tissue to stay more oxygenated helping to improve exercise performance. Not only can coffee help promote fat loss and workout performance but it can also boost your endurance.

According to this study, caffeine can have an impact on your endurance levels not just physically but mentally too. Here's another study that helps back up the performance boost you could get from within 60-90 minutes of taking it.

 

2. Increase Focus

Anyone who has stumbled out of bed and to the coffee machine has found that drinking coffee is a perfect morning pick-me-up. Caffeine can be a mind stimulant that gets to work on your central nervous system and helps your brain and your body stay focused on the task at hand. For those who want to stay connected and alert during their session, this study backs up the idea that caffeine could help.

 

3. Reduce Pain

Say farewell to every limb aching after your spin class, ingesting caffeine has been found to potentially reduce muscle ache after an intense workout. The idea is that caffeine intake can help to soften the blow of delayed muscle pains because it is able to block a chemical that activates pain receptors in the body cells. The study was conducted using caffeine as a pre-workout supplement and those who took the pill with caffeine content reported less muscle pain than those who took the placebo.

 

4. Improve Mood During Workout

Another thing to consider, not only can coffee give you a better workout physically but it can also help you to enjoy your workout session on an emotional level too. Caffeine gets to work on your central nervous system, your heart, and the center that has a direct impact on controlling your blood pressure and helps the body to release dopamine and endorphins, both of which have the feel-good factor. As these body chemicals can also help with motivation, energy levels, and even help ease or regulate muscle aches post-workout too.

 

Drawbacks of Drinking Coffee Before a Workout

 

While there are certainly a whole host of health benefits that come with slurping down your cup of cold brew coffee before your cardio workouts, it's not always a walk in the park. Just like any caffeine substance, coffee and caffeine do have drawbacks too.

Sandy Younane Brikho, MDA, RDN backs this up by reminding us of the potential pitfalls of relying on caffeine to support your athletic performance.

“I know many people want to have more energy before a workout to fuel them, however, I don’t recommend consuming coffee beforehand for several reasons." 

First, caffeine dehydrates you. It also makes you feel full, which delays hunger signals that are otherwise important when expending energy. Lastly, because it causes shakiness, it "could impact your grip or balance, which could make your workout more challenging."

For many health professionals, this is reason enough not to turn to caffeine to fuel your workouts.

Morgyn Clair, MS, RDN is wary of recommending caffeine before workout because everyone responds differently to caffeine. 

"People with caffeine sensitivity metabolize caffeine more slowly, making the effects of caffeine stick around longer and often more intensely." 

Symptoms of caffeine sensitivity include:

  • increased heart rate
  • shakiness
  • anxiety after consuming small amounts of caffeine

If this sounds familiar to you, it's worth exploring other options to fuel your workout routine whether that be energy drinks, pre-workout supplements, decaffeinated coffee (if you love the taste), or even just plenty of water to keep your body happy and hydrated.

If you are a morning exerciser, you can always have your coffee post exercise too.

Talk to your personal trainer or medical professional about natural ways you can boost your blood flow and muscle strength without the crutch of coffee for some added ideas.

    So the key takeaway? Try at your own risk and, of course, always consult your trusted medical professional.

     

    Alternatives to Coffee Before a Workout

     

    Though many people love the extra boost in energy that caffeine offers, Shena Jaramillo MS, RD warns us that "a high dose of caffeine may leave us with rapid spikes and drops in our performance." Depending on your fitness goals, this could be counterproductive.

    Not only that, but "intake of caffeine prior to a workout may also disrupt intake of other more nutrient-dense food choices such as complex carbohydrate and protein which can produce sustained performance."  

    So instead of loading up on instant coffee, what can you do to boost your workout? Sandy Younane Brikho, MDA, RDN recommends "eating at least 15 grams of protein 1-2 hours prior to exercise combined with some kind of carbohydrate or fruit."  This combination of protein and carbohydrate helps fuel you for your workout and is a natural way to give you energy before exercise.

    Brikho recommends the following pre-workout snack options:

    • A slice of whole-grain bread, peanut butter, and a sliced banana on top
    • Half of a turkey sandwich which contains one slice of bread, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions (or any other veggies you love) 
    • Greek yogurt topped with berries
    • Protein smoothie 
    • 2-3 hard-boiled eggs and a piece of fruit 

    Another option for the caffeine kick could be swapping out your cup of joe for black tea. Tea has caffeine, which can provide a slightly stimulating effect, but has significantly less than coffee.

    Tea is also full of awesome health benefits and can aid in everything from weight loss to blood sugar management. While coffee can contain 95mg to 200 mg of caffeine, tea comes in at only 14mg-70mg.

    Medical professionals recommend no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day, so black tea could help you stay well under that limit. 

     

    FAQ About Consuming Caffeine Before A Workout

     

    How long before a workout should you drink coffee?

    For those who are swayed by the idea of coffee before a workout, timing is everything. You can't expect to sip and get an instant buzz that will directly impact your weight training, run, or whatever type of workout is getting your heart going. While caffeine goes down quick and hits the stomach within 15 - 30 minutes, it actually gives you its most powerful boost between 30 - 75 minutes after consumption. If you want to play it safe, you may think about having your drink of coffee an hour before you hit the gym.

    Another factor worth considering is whether your lifestyle outside of exercise is conducive to choosing caffeine as part of your routine. For those early risers and A.M sessions, it's not such a problem to consume coffee before your sesh. But if you are someone who tends to hit the gym in the evening then your body won't have the chance to burn through all the caffeine in a cup. It can take up to six hours for that to happen. Going to bed jacked up on coffee is sure to have side effects when it comes to a decent night of shut-eye.

     

    Which coffee is best before a workout?

    When it comes to coffee and workouts, not all brews are born equal. Darker roasted coffee can actually have less caffeine than lightly roasted coffee and cold brew also has less caffeine too. If you want to be mindful about your caffeine consumption, you can go dark cold brew for a buzz that doesn't outstay its welcome.

    It's always worth understanding your own relationship to caffeine before you introduce it as a boost to your athletic performance.

    What are your thoughts on coffee as part of your pregame plan? Share your stories with us in the comments

     

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