Can Caffeine Improve Your Workout?

Caffeine may lengthen the time of your workout

Credits: Mike Marquez on
Edited By:
Alexandra Vaughn , MD

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the United States. Many enjoy the light buzz from drinking a cup in the morning before work but that buzz might also help in the gym. Coffee contains high amounts of caffeine, which has been shown to have many perks when exercising.


How Can Coffee Be Beneficial?

Coffee Contains Antioxidants

The number one reason coffee offers health benefits is that it is high in antioxidants. According to the American Chemical Society, coffee is the number one source of antioxidants for Americans, even topping foods like blueberries and goji berries! Antioxidants are molecules found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods. Antioxidants exist in many different forms, including phytochemicals such as flavonoids and vitamins, including vitamins C and E. Antioxidants neutralize molecules called free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can cause oxidative stress (damage) to cells. Antioxidants help to stabilize free radicals and protect against damage to our DNA, cells, and tissues.

Coffee Contains Natural Caffeine

Coffee also contains naturally occurring caffeine. Caffeine is classified as a natural stimulant; it can increase alertness and mental activity when consumed. Stimulation of mental activity can help to improve mood and can enhance physical performance during exercise. This is also why it is a common ingredient in pre-workout supplements. Caffeine is also known to stimulate the cardiac muscle of the heart and relax smooth muscle, such as the bladder muscle, to encourage urination. The caffeine content of coffee can vary depending on how the coffee beans are prepared.


How Is Caffeine Metabolized?

Once the caffeine has been absorbed through the small intestine and into the bloodstream, it is metabolized in the liver. The absorption is usually complete in approximately 45 minutes but peak concentration in the bloodstream can be found anywhere between 15 minutes to 2 hours. Different genes can affect the absorption rate of caffeine; some people may feel effects faster than others. Caffeine in the body can also decrease pain and lower perception of effort.


Benefits of Caffeine During Exercise

Increased Time to Exhaustion

Many studies have found that caffeine ingestion before a workout can improve the length of time someone is able to perform endurance exercises like running. A study also found that caffeine ingestion helped to improve time to exhaustion during high-intensity cycling by 12% in individuals with moderate hypoxia. Hypoxia is a condition in which a person’s limbs or other regions of the body are deprived of oxygen, which typically means they will be exhausted more easily. Another study found that caffeine consumption before a workout decreased muscle glycogenolysis, the breakdown of glycogen for energy, in the first 15 minutes of exercise. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates that can be used for energy later. This means that there will be more glycogen to expend for a longer amount of time than normal when exercising.

Improved Mood

Caffeine consumption not only improves mood because it increases mental activity, but it also decreases the sensation of pain. Caffeine’s action against adenosine receptors lowers feelings of pain and decreases the perception of effort when exercising. Caffeine also increases levels of dopamine and epinephrine which can improve mood.

Increased Fat Burn

Caffeine ingestion may also be able to increase lipolysis, which is the breakdown of fat cells. This may be caused by an increase in free fatty acids and caffeine’s actions to block the actions of adenosine receptors on fat cells. Adenosine is a chemical signal that binds to cells in your body and normally promotes sleepiness. The binding of adenosine to its receptors also decreases fat breakdown. So when caffeine prevents adenosine from binding to receptors on cells, the fat breakdown is increased.

Increased Muscle Force

Caffeine also increases the calcium that is released in cells that allows for more muscle contractions to occur. This would allow for skeletal muscles to produce more force while exercising.


What Is Pre-workout?

Pre-workout is typically a nutritional supplement that is intended to improve performance while exercising. They are supposed to increase energy levels and lessen fatigue. Many pre-workout recipes already include caffeine that is made from coffee, seeds, or tea leaves. There are many different brands of pre-workout and every single one has different ingredients or recipes. Pre-workout supplements are not regulated by the FDA so there is no guarantee that they contain that ingredients that are listed. Many people reap the benefits of pre-workout and highly recommend them, but some pre-workout supplements can have dangerous side effects including high blood pressure, kidney damage, and chest pain. Drinking coffee might be a beneficial replacement for a pre-workout to avoid any side effects or to just try something new!


How to Use Coffee as A Pre-workout

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that using coffee as a pre-workout is safe as long as a person is not consuming more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day. They also recommend choosing a coffee drink like a low-fat latte, because it will also contain an appropriate amount of protein and carbohydrates to provide optimal energy. A study also found that as little as 3 or 6 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight is enough to increase endurance during exercise. They also found that 9 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight does not have an added benefit compared to 6 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. So, try a cup of java before hitting the gym, it might be enough to help improve your workout!


But First….Check With Your Doctor

You should consult with a physician before engaging in any workouts to make sure that exercising is ok for your body. Also, discuss the use of caffeine or pre-workout products with your doctor before using them to be sure they are safe for you.

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