No matter what you call it: java, rocket fuel, daily grind, joe, coffee- it is one of the most popular beverages in the world. Coffee contains one of the most popular performance aids on the market: caffeine. Fitness supplement companies often add caffeine to their pre-workout supplements and energy drinks. The most commonly studied form of caffeine is caffeine anhydrous.
Athletes and workout enthusiasts around the world depend on caffeine in some form to increase their strength, help them run farther on the track, and jump higher on the court.
The research that is available on supplementing with caffeine is persuasive- but is it possible to get the same benefits by drinking coffee at home before your workout? In this article, we’ll explain more about how drinking coffee affects your body, as well as how it can affect your workouts.
How Does Coffee Affect Your Body?
We know that coffee contains caffeine- a stimulant- along with other compounds that could enhance your mood and overall health along with feeding some gut microbes. While actual caffeine content of coffee varies, the average cup offers approximately 100 milligrams of caffeine.
According to experts, caffeine improves multiple aspects of workout performance by improving cognition, preventing fatigue, reducing pain sensation, and recruiting muscle fibers.
Below, we’ll explore some of the ways that coffee affects your body.
Approximately 1 hour after drinking your cup of coffee, the caffeine is fully absorbed, and serum caffeine levels peak approximately 15 to 120 minutes later. It has a half-life of 2 ½ to 10 hours, meaning that half of the caffeine you consume could still be in your bloodstream 11 hours after your first sip. Of course, this varies based on genetics, age, and gender.
Coffee also contains chlorogenic acids, which are believed to contribute to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects it has. Your body does not absorb these very well, so most of them reach your colon where your gut microbes metabolize them, making them prebiotic. Finally, coffee stimulates muscle contractions in the large intestine, which helps to induce bowel movements.
We know that caffeine is a psychoactive substance that has a chemical structure similar to that of adenosine, which is a chemical that causes fatigue. Caffeine prevents adenine from binding to its receptor, which reduces or prevents you from feeling tired. In addition, it is believed that caffeine has an indirect effect on dopamine activity in the brain, which explains some of its mood-enhancing effects.
If you drink coffee frequently, you could increase your tolerance, which means you need to drink more to get the same effect. Researchers are still working to determine if this tolerance also decreases the ergogenic effects of caffeine, but most results show that your morning cup of coffee will not have an effect on the benefits of pre-workout supplementation.
Research indicates that caffeine increases the release of calcium into muscle cells, which creates a more effective muscle contraction. In addition, it may increase muscle fiber responsiveness to signals from the nervous system, resulting in greater potential for production of force during resistance training.
Some newer research indicates that caffeine may help with reducing pain during and following workouts. In some studies, participants have reported lower pain ratings during intense sessions and others have reported less muscle soreness.
Caffeine and caffeic acid found in coffee support the metabolism of glucose and coffee has shown to support recovery by improving the replenishment of glycogen following your workout to prepare you for the next one.
Caffeine may also increase lipolysis, which is the process by which stored fats are released into the body to be used for energy. That being said, you will not necessarily lose fat simply by drinking coffee. The key to shedding fat is a diet that focuses on a moderate caloric deficit.
How Does Coffee Affect Your Workout?
In general, caffeine is an effective ergogenic aid. It’s important to note that, due to a variety of reasons, not everyone will respond in exactly the same way. However, whether you take your caffeine in the form of a dietary supplement or by drinking coffee prior to working out, you will likely be able to run faster, move more weight, and jump higher.
There is some research indicating that individuals who have a specific gene mutation benefit more from caffeine- but other research indicates that they may perform worse. That being said, results are inconsistent between studies and some have indicated that there is no relation between the ergogenic effects of caffeine and an individual’s genes.
However, it is important to note that if you are working out after an overnight fast or are sleep-deprived, caffeine may not be as effective. It cannot be used as a replacement for a healthy pre-workout meal or a good night’s sleep.
Below, we’ll explore some of the ways caffeine affects your workout.
Power is a measurement of how quickly force can be produced and strength is a measurement of how much force is produced. Typically, power is measured with a repeated sprint test or a vertical jump, while strength is tested with a one-rep-max test.
In one meta-analysis, caffeine improved upper body strength by 3.2 kilograms in a one-rep-max test. However, this was not apparent in lower body exercises. During short, 10-second cycle sprints, vertical jump tests, medicine ball throws, and half-squat exercises, caffeine improved power production. However, this was not the case during 30-second cycling sprint tests with experienced cyclists.
Therefore, while it’s true that individual responses vary, caffeine is likely to benefit short bouts of sprinting, resistance training, and plyometrics.
Muscular endurance, that is the ability to repeatedly contract a muscle over a prolonged period of time. This is typically tested by performing reps to failure or measuring the time that you can maintain a certain level of force.
In one study that included female participants, caffeinated coffee resulted in modest improvements in lower body endurance, meaning they were able to get in approximately 2 more reps of back squats in the first three sets. However, there was no difference in the remainder of the sets and upper body muscular endurance was not affected.
That being said, there have been other studies indicating greater improvement in muscular endurance and the results highlight caffeine as an ergogenic aid for athletes engaging in high-rep workouts.
Some research indicates that caffeine can improve speed and power output by 3%- which may not sound like much, but if you’re talking about a half-marathon or similar activity, it turns into minutes gained.
There has also been some study on shorter runs: 800 meters, 3 kilometers, 5 kilometers, and 1 mile. Performance in all except the 800 meter run were improved. The participants in that study were fasted, which could have had an effect on the potential ergogenic effects of the caffeine.
Simply thinking that you are drinking caffeinated coffee can have an effect on workout performance. This is the placebo effect. In one study, 10 competitive cyclists tried to guess whether they were given caffeine or a placebo prior to the test. Those who incorrectly believed they had received caffeine reached peak power approximately 1 second before their counterparts who correctly guessed they were given a placebo.
In another study, participants were told they were receiving a placebo but actually received a caffeinated drink. Those participants experienced a performance boost as well.
Coffee is a delicious source of caffeine and chlorogenic acids, which makes it a cost-effective, health-promoting, and potentially prebiotic, ergogenic aid. Of course, it is not meant to replace good sleep hygiene and nutrition- but it will boost your physical and mental performance.
Even if you’re depending on the placebo effect, you don’t have to give up your cup of coffee. Caffeine is one of the most studied and proven performance enhancers in the world- so if you want to have a cup of coffee before you work out, go for it.
FAQs about Drinking Coffee Before a Workout
As you can see, there’s so much more to coffee and how it affects performance than most people think. Here are some frequently asked questions about drinking coffee before a workout:
How much coffee should I consume before working out?
The caffeine content of coffee varies, but on average, a cup of coffee contains 100 milligrams. The lowest effective dosage is estimated to be 3 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. Therefore, if you weigh approximately 70 kilograms (or 154 pounds), you need approximately 2 cups of coffee. The most common, well-tolerated dose is 5 to 6 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight. Research indicates that higher doses result in negative side effects.
How long before working out should I consume coffee?
Due to the half-life and absorption rate of caffeine, experts suggest that its best to consume coffee about 1 hour prior to starting your workout. Of course, you need to keep in mind that half of whatever you consume will still be in your bloodstream 2 ½ to 10 hours later. This means that if you consume caffeine too late in the day, your sleep quality could be affected.
Are there disadvantages to consuming coffee prior to working out?
We do know that coffee stimulates bowel movements – so if you drink it too close to your workout, you could end up in the bathroom instead. Additionally, since caffeine stimulates the cardiovascular system, it can lead to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure in some.
High doses can cause unwanted side effects such as sleep disturbances, increased urination, gastrointestinal distress, and heart palpitations.
That being said, the caffeine in coffee is just as effective as caffeine in other forms.
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