I used to hate coffee. The smell, the taste, the ensuing bad breath…everything about it was off putting. About three years ago, that all changed. I developed a keen appreciation for the caffeinated beverage, and have since made it a (nearly) daily ritual. On some days, multiple. Having accepted coffee as a regular part of my life, it wasn’t long before I stated experimenting with it before my workouts. The stimulant effects of a cup of Joe did wonders for my ability to push myself harder, stay in the gym longer, and generally do better, faster, and more work. From time to time, a reader will write in asking my opinion about drinking coffee before their workouts. Predictably, I’d talk about how much it helps me and give the thumbs up. But after a while, I started thinking; is coffee before exercise REALLY helping me in the gym, or is it all in my head? This was closely followed by; have I been giving out shoddy advice this entire time?
In hopes of developing an actually educated opinion, I decided to do some research and put together a response to the increasingly common question of, “should I drink coffee before working out?” So keep reading, and we’ll break down the whole coffee before exercise debate and hopefully give you a definitive answer, once and for all.
Let’s first address the obvious; coffee gives you a boost. The stimulant qualities are hard to miss; increased alertness, better attention to detail, increased energy, and for some, even a period of increased motivation. Of course, you can over do it and develop an uncomfortably fast heart rate, jitteriness, and a messed up sleep cycle. Caffeine affects each of us differently, so individual experiences will vary, but in general, I think most would agree the positive benefits of coffee drinking outweigh the negatives.
News Flash…Coffee Gives You a Lift
The stimulant qualities of coffee have always been particularly useful for me during my training sessions. As I mentioned above, I could exercise better, stronger, and faster when I was caffeinated up. I started checking out studies on the issue to give me a little more scientific perspective. The studies confirmed what I was sure I already knew; consuming caffeine before exercise allows you to exercise longer, harder, and faster . Not only that, drinking coffee before a lengthy training session provides the mental benefit of making the session feel shorter than it actually is. This has been particularly useful during long bouts of cardio in preparation for an upcoming race. Doing a 40 mile bike ride with caffeine vs. without, is like night and day. Perhaps you could argue I’m becoming a little too dependent, but that’s another conversation for another day.
Hitting the gym all jacked up and ready to get through ANY workout has been instrumental in the successes I’ve personally achieved. A good 80% of my workouts follow a 6-8 oz. cup of coffee 30-45 minutes before a training session.
Coffee Boosts EPOC
For the past 25 years, there has been a correlation between coffee and EPOC which has been well documented. As many of our regular readers know, boosting your EPOC during a training is one of the single best things you can do to increase your total caloric burn, ensure you’ve got a heightened metabolism, and shed body fat faster than ever.
One of the earliest studies on the topic of caffeine and EPOC was conducted in 1989 by a group of University of Queensland researchers. Results indicated consuming a caffeinated beverage 60 minutes before cardiovascular exercise “significantly” raised EPOC levels, as well as the corresponding benefits of an elevated EPOC. Simply put, taking a little caffeine before working out is going to help you burn more calories and burn body fat at a faster rate .
Coffee Will Skyrocket Your Motivation
Finding ways to stay engaged, motivated, and consistent is the greatest struggle many of us face on our fitness journey. Far more important than how much you’re lifting or how fast you’re running, is the ability to stick to a plan, even in the face of adversity. The most fit and healthy among us are almost always the most resistant to mental fatigue and that nagging little inner voice that tries to convince us how much more comfortable the couch is, than the gym, after a long day of work.
Researchers from Coventry University in the UK examined the effects of caffeine on mood, intensity, and motivation of caffeinated participants engaging in strenuous exercise programs. Almost across the board, researchers discovered that subjects were more invested in their exercise program, had the ability to perform more repetitions before failure, and experienced an elevated mood, but during and after training sessions .
When it comes to your motivation, I’m a firm believer that you should be taking advantage of every edge you can get. Your motivation levels are almost solely responsible for your success or failure on any given exercise program. Finding ways to boost your motivation isn’t always easy, but it appears that caffeine has a direct result on motivation levels. As anyone who has exercised for a while probably knows, when you’re motivated, going to the gym (and making progress) is so much easier. Get motivated, stay motivated, make progress, get motivated, stay motivated…..THIS is the kind of cycle you need to get yourself into.
The Big Takeaway
This one should be pretty obvious – coffee before exercise CAN help you make better, faster, and more long-lasting progress. It has the ability to positively affect physiological reactions in your body, improve your mental outlook on your workouts, keep you motivated, and allow you to perform to the best of your abilities. Not only that, additional studies are coming out that show a wide array of cancer fighting benefits of regular coffee consumption. I regularly drink coffee and feel confident in my decision to do so.
Of course, there are downsides to most things in life, and coffee is no exception. Regular coffee use can increase your likelihood of developing stomach ulcers, sleeping problems, or exacerbate anxiety. If you’ve been on the fence or simply were wondering if there was any real benefit to coffee before exercise, I think the findings in the studies listed in this article should provide confirmation. That said, you shouldn’t feel like you MUST now drink coffee before exercising. People have been making amazing progress without coffee for years, so it certainly isn’t the only way to get to where you want to be. Alternatively, if you’re dead set on adding caffeine to your training plan, but aren’t so hot on coffee, consider going for energy gels or drinks which contain low to moderate levels of caffeine.