Should You Take Caffeine Before A Workout: Pros and Cons
There’s been a lot of buzz about whether you should enjoy caffeine pre-workout to get the most from your exercise. Caffeine is mostly known as a stimulant used to boost mental alertness, and that’s certainly the primary benefit most people get from their morning cup of coffee.
That’s not all, though. Caffeine also has major benefits for your body. It can speed up your metabolism and even make it feel easier to push yourself during a hard workout.
First of all, what exactly is caffeine?
Caffeine is a natural and commonly used stimulant, most often found in coffee, tea, and cocoa. It may also be added to other foods and beverages, such as soft drinks and energy drinks.
When consumed, caffeine absorbs into the bloodstream. From there it makes its way to the liver and then the body’s various organs. Caffeine’s most important effect is on the brain since it connects to and blocks adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter that allows the brain to relax and feel tired.
Normally, adenosine levels build throughout the day, as the body grows more and more sleepy. Consuming a moderate amount of caffeine per day stimulates the waking functions of the body, including metabolism and alertness which are important for a good workout.
How Caffeine Works in the Body
When working out, your primary concern is how caffeine will affect your body.
Caffeine offers both positive and negative benefits for your health that can last about three to four hours in the body (on an effective, noticable level) once consumed. It helps the body remain awake and alert and keep it from feeling tired.
Additionally, it can increase the body’s blood adrenaline levels. Not only does this spur on brain activity, but it also stimulates the dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters. Dopamine helps to block pain while offering a sense of euphoria and norepinephrine increases alertness and focus.
How Caffeine Improves Exercise Performance
Caffeine isn’t just good for waking you up and getting you moving in the morning. When consumed before exercise, caffeine can make it easier to perform intense training while experiencing less fatigue or pain.
It’s a Great Fat Burner
Caffeine helps you work out harder and longer, and a prolonged workout means more burning more calories. It also boosts your fat burning by speeding up the metabolism and training your body to burn fat for energy during strenuous exercise.
While exercising, caffeine can cause the body to use fat as fuel, thus increasing fat burning. However, simply consuming caffeine isn’t enough. Without additional exercise, this weight loss will remain minimal over the long term.
Additionally, it can help to increase the afterburn of your workout, allowing you to burn more calories when at rest. Some also find that caffeine suppresses their appetite by activating their sympathetic nervous system and fight or flight fear responses.
- Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and can increase the metabolism up to 11 percent, which in turn can increase fat burning by 13 percent.
- Simply consuming 300 mg of caffeine a day, the amount present in about two to three cups of coffee, can help to burn an additional 79 calories each day.
It Ensures Quicker Muscle Recovery
Muscle fatigue can really slow down your training regime. Consuming caffeine pre-workout along with eating carbohydrates for energy will improve the speed at which your body replenishes its glycogen to repair your muscles.
Caffeine improves muscle contraction so that your muscles feel less fatigued for longer workouts. It does this by helping the glucose stored in the muscle last longer.
Allowing your muscles to recover between training sessions is important to keep your body safe and healthy, particularly when you’re training hard.
Better Aerobic Performance
Endurance exercises require your body to have a strong aerobic performance. This may include running, playing either solo or team sports, or any other activities that require your body to exercise at mid to high-intensity over long periods of time.
Caffeine can help with your aerobic endurance and block fatigue so that you can exercise for longer.
Enhanced Anaerobic Performance
Anaerobic performance refers to short bursts of very intense physical activity. A stronger caffeine dose pre-workout will allow you to move faster or even experience feeling a little stronger. Some even report being able to lift more.
To get these benefits, you’ll need to consume 200 to 600 mg per serving prior to exercising.
Rules for Healthy Caffeine Consumption
There are mixed reports on whether or not caffeine is a true diuretic. Nonetheless, your body needs water whether you’re drinking caffeine or not. Proper hydration is important for healthy caffeine consumption and effective workouts. Make sure to always consume water prior to exercising and throughout your exercises as well.
When you begin drinking caffeine to boost your workout, start slow with small amounts of caffeine. This will give you time to assess your tolerance. You can then increase your intake over time to your ideal threshold.
If you find your tolerance rising and the benefits of caffeine diminishing, the best way to feel the effects again is to cut back and only consume it when you really need it. This method is always better than increasing consumption. Consuming more per day to try to feel greater stimulation when you already have a caffeine tolerance can take you to dangerous levels of consumption with little payoff.
When to Drink Caffeine?
Some people use caffeine while training for its fat burning gains. Others prefer to save it for when they need a performance boost, such as during important races or sporting events. Whichever you choose, use caffeine sparingly will help your body to remain sensitive to it when you do consume it.
Keep in mind, if you’re someone who works out later in the day, it’s best not to consume caffeine six hours before you intend to sleep. Consuming caffeine too late in the day can disrupt your sleep cycles, which are more important for health and recovery than the gains you would receive from the caffeine.
Consuming caffeine pre-workout is the most common way to boost your workout gain and has numerous benefits, including increased fat and calorie burn during exercise. It can also help you get more out of the time you spend exercising by reducing perceived exertion and allowing the exercise to feel easier.
How Long Before Your Workout Should You Drink Caffeine?
Caffeine is quick-acting which means you don’t have to worry about a lot of preparation before you experience its effects when working out. The caffeine in a cup of coffee can take twenty minutes to hit the bloodstream and it is generally at its fullest effectiveness within an hour.
For best effects, you should consume your caffeine an hour before your workout.
How Much Caffeine Should You Intake?
For the most exercise performance benefit, one serving of 100 to 200 mg is sufficient. Those who are using caffeine for anaerobic benefits should increase their consumption from 200 to 600 mg.
Keep in mind, the average cup of coffee is 100 to 200 mg. And the average serving of espresso varies from 240 to 720 mg.
It’s generally not efficacious to consume caffeine during a workout. Since it takes about thirty minutes to an hour for caffeine to reach its peak performance in your system, drinking it only during your workout will mean missing out on the workout gains. Instead, consume water throughout your workout to keep your body hydrated and moving smoothly.
When it comes to post-workout caffeine consumption, there are mixed results and few known benefits to consuming caffeine after a workout. In other words, this isn’t your best option.
On the one hand, some sources report that consuming caffeine after a workout can help muscle recovery, particularly when combined with carbohydrates. However, these benefits are also common in studies of individuals who drink caffeine before their workout, and it’s inconclusive that individuals would receive increased benefits from consuming the caffeine post-workout.
Additionally, some sources report that consuming caffeine after a workout can put stress on your body rather than allow it to recover since caffeine boosts cortisol levels. Cortisol is more commonly known as the stress hormone, and it’s best for your body to reduce cortisol levels after exercising to allow the body to balance and heal between exercise days.
What Type of Caffeine-Rich Drink is Best for Pre-Workout?
- Coffee – Drinking some form of coffee is the most common way to consume caffeine. Coffee also contains antioxidants that can help your body recover from oxidative damage. The actual amount of caffeine per cup of coffee will vary widely depending on the beans and their preparation. While bottled coffee beverages are widely available, many brands contain added sugars that can decrease the efficacy of your workout.
- Tea – Tea beverages generally contain less caffeine than coffee, but they often pack more antioxidants which can also help to increase fat-burning. Different tea varieties that contain caffeine have widely different values. Black tea will typically pack the most caffeine, while green tea beverages often contain additional benefits such as antioxidants. Green tea or matcha powder is also a common ingredient to use in a pre-workout smoothie or protein shake.
- Caffeine Pills – Caffeine pills are convenient, cost-effective, and require minimal preparation. However, it’s very easy to overdo it with these pills and they shouldn’t be taken by those who are overly sensitive to caffeine. For someone who hasn’t taken caffeine before, as little as one pill can lead to feeling jittery. It’s best to start small and always pay attention to how your own body reacts to stimulants. Some pre-workout supplements will also contain amino acids that help to build proteins.
- Energy Drinks – Energy drinks offer a convenient option to grab on the go. However, they typically contain large amounts of sugar, so it’s important to check the ingredient list on your favorite energy drink or opt for a sugar-free version. This also tends to be more expensive, since a single energy drink will cost more than beverages that you prepare yourself, such as tea or coffee.
How to Avoid Getting Addicted to Caffeine
The rate at which you build up your caffeine tolerance will depend on your metabolism and physical history with caffeine. Some people will develop a tolerance after a few days and others will take a couple of months. When it comes to reaping the rewards of a good caffeinated workout, however, you don’t want your body to be tolerant because that will decrease the positive effects of the caffeine.
To avoid addiction, consider the following tips:
- Only consume caffeine when you need stimulation.
- Only consume caffeine during your two most strenuous weekly workouts.
- Pay attention to how much caffeine you’re consuming, including other foods and drinks.
- To avoid withdrawal symptoms, cut back on your caffeine intake gradually. For example, drink one less caffeinated beverage a day. This will help your body acclimate to the decreased amounts of caffeine.
- For habitual coffee drinkers, switch to decaf just before you’ve reached your limit. Keep in mind that decaf does not mean that there is no caffeine content. There is often residual caffeine, but it will be hardly present.
- Switch to tea and brew it for less time to decrease the strength.
- Drink non-caffeinated beverages instead, such as herbal teas, which can be beneficial for restoring your body’s water balance.
- Be aware of over-the-counter medications and pain relievers that contain caffeine. While these medications can be perfectly healthy in moderation, they can also contribute to the habit-forming symptoms of caffeine.
When Is It Time to Cut Back on Caffeine?
It is safe to consume up to 400 mg of caffeine a day, which is about 2-4 cups of coffee. Exceeding 600 mg each day becomes excessive and potentially unsafe. A single dose of 500 mg of caffeine has on occasion caused a fatal overdose, therefore it’s recommended to only consume 200 mg all at once.
Negative side effects of caffeine consumption include trouble sleeping and inconsistent sleep cycles. An inconsistent circadian rhythm can decrease the benefits of a weight loss regime, as healthy sleep cycles are important for a well-functioning body.
It can also have troubling side effects, such as anxiety, restlessness, and physical tremors. Too much caffeine can lead to an irregular heartbeat, mild to severe headaches and migraines, and high blood pressure. It’s also important to check any medications for interactions with caffeine, such as antidepressants.
Keep in mind that discontinuing or even cutting back on your caffeine intake can cause withdrawal symptoms including mood symptoms and headaches.
While caffeine won’t make you perform miracles when consumed as a pre-workout supplement, it could help to boost your performance to get the most out of your training.