Coffee contains caffeine, which is a stimulant. General intuition suggests that the caffeine in coffee might improve workouts, and science confirms this. In fact, caffeine’s effect can be so great that it was once banned by the International Olympic Committee. (The ban has since been discontinued, but the IOC reserves the right to reinstitute it.) Here’s a look at how coffee can improve any workout, whether training for the Olympics or just going for a jog around the block.
Is It Safe to Drink Coffee Before a Workout?
In general, assuming you’re an otherwise healthy adult with no underlying medical issues, it’s safe to drink a moderate amount of coffee before a workout. In the studies mentioned below, most participants had one to two cups of coffee, depending on the study.
There are a few precautions you should heed, however, if you’re going to start using caffeine before a workout:
- only adults should use caffeine before workouts, as it can have adverse effects in children
- you should still mainly drink water (or a sports drink) during workouts
- stay hydrated, as coffee is a diuretic and can dehydrate
Some nutritionists have raised concerns about adverse effects that drinking coffee before a workout may have, but their concerns are general side effects of coffee. They aren’t specifically related to coffee and exercise. For example, nutritionists note that coffee can lead to insomnia, headaches and anxiety, which are issues that anyone who drinks too much coffee may suffer from.
Coffee Makes You Exercise Harder
In short, drinking coffee before working out will help you go longer and go harder. Thanks to it’s effects, your muscles will have more fuel, and your brain will feel less pain. Yes, there’s science to back this up.
First, drinking coffee will make your heart beat faster. In a Japanese study, people who drank coffee before exercising saw a 30 percent improvement in circulation when compared to people who didn’t have any coffee. As your circulation improves, your muscles will receive more oxygen — which they need when you’re working out. (It should be noted that this study specifically looked at people who weren’t already drinking coffee.)
Second, in a study conducted by the University of Illinois, participants who had coffee reported less perceived pain during their exercise routines than those who didn’t drink any. The reason for this isn’t as clear as the circulation boost from the Japanese study, but a higher pain tolerance may help you push a little harder.
Third, the biochemistry behind caffeine in the body explains why drinking coffee improves endurance. Caffeine reduces muscle’s reliance on glycogen, which is a type of muscle fuel stored in the muscles, by helping your body burn fat. Glycogen is the muscle’s last resort for energy, so the longer your muscles can delay using it, the longer you’ll be able to last.
How Much Coffee Should You Drink?
If you’re an otherwise healthy adult, you might want to drink coffee before your workouts. According to the Mayo Clinic, healthy adults can safely consume up to about 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, which is roughly the equivalent of four cups of coffee. You shouldn’t drink all of these immediately before working out, but having one or two cups prior to exercising might just give you the edge you need in the gym. After that, keep drinking water to stay hydrated.