Should I Drink Coffee Before a Workout?

If you want a more fulfilling workout session, you might want to try drinking a cup of coffee before you exercise. As a 2001 study in Sports Medicine noted, caffeine can help an athlete work out longer.

Are you training for a race? Caffeine can increase your speed and power output, a benefit that holds consistent if your workout is only a minute or extends to two hours.

Drinking caffeine may have fewer effects if you’re focused on strength training, but the study noted that it can still help you resist fatigue as you work out.

However, while benefits to drinking caffeine before a workout have been observed, there are still aspects that are not fully understood, a 2019 article in Sports Medicine noted.

For example, how does a trained athlete benefit from a cup of coffee when compared to an out-of-shape person who’s just developing a workout routine? One idea is that you benefit more from the caffeine boost if you have more athletic experience.

Plus, how someone handles caffeine can vary from person to person. For example, if you have acid reflux, a cup of coffee before your workout might make you feel sick instead of providing a boost.

Still, for most of us, there’s no harm in trying a cup of coffee before exercising and deciding if it’s helpful or not. You don’t have to chug a cup of coffee and immediately start working out, too. You should still feel the benefits of coffee for a while, even if it’s been 45 minutes since you drank a cup.

What About Coffee After a Workout?

Many advise against drinking coffee after a workout. The reason is that your body releases cortisol, known as the stress hormone, when you workout. Caffeine can elevate your cortisol levels even when you’re at rest, so drinking coffee after can make you feel more stressed than you should feel.

If you’re a regular coffee drinker, a cup after your workout may not affect you. However, if you try a post-workout coffee and find that the drink only stresses you instead of calming you, you might want to try water as a cooldown drink instead.

Plus, most of us shouldn’t need coffee to feel energized and alert after a regular workout. If your energy levels feel consistently low after exercising, you may want to seek out your regular physician or consider changing your workout, as you may be pushing yourself too hard.

When Is It Too Late to Drink a Cup of Coffee?

It’s common knowledge that drinking too much coffee or another caffeinated beverage close to bedtime can affect your sleep schedule. What’s less well known are the exact specifics for when you should stop your caffeine intake for the day.

A 2013 study observed the effects 400 mg of caffeine had on subjects when applied 0, 3, and 6 hours before bedtime. All groups experienced sleep disturbances. For a good night of sleep, it’s important to halt your caffeine intake at least 6 hours before bed.

Some experts even recommend cutting out caffeine as early as noon, so it’s easier to fall asleep at night.

“It’s important to note that people metabolize both caffeine and coffee differently based on their DNA and gut microbiome. A single cup of black coffee may take someone 6 hours to fully metabolize and rid the system of its caffeine contents, whereas it may take someone else 10 hours,” says Brittany Ford, Registered Holistic Nutritionist.    

Brittany also adds, “This also changes over time. When you’re in your teens and twenties, the body can metabolize caffeine faster than when you’re in your fifties. It’s key to understand that what works for you today, may not work for you in years to come.”

The best practice is to experiment and see what works best for you. If you experience shaky hands, a racing pulse, or feel “wired but tired,” the caffeine amount you’re consuming may be too much.

Sleep and performance are closely related. When you lose sleep, your performance suffers for it the next day. If you have too much caffeine and experience delayed sleep onset, you’ll feel more sluggish the next day.

Other Benefits of Coffee

A 2019 survey found that only a minority of coffee drinkers believe it can benefit your health. Research suggests, however, that drinking can have a positive effect on the body.

A 2015 review noted drinking coffee may be good for skeletal muscles. Coffee can induce autophagy, where a cell “breaks down and destroys old, damaged, or abnormal proteins and other substances.” Coffee also encourages injured muscles to regenerate and slows the progression of sarcopenia, a condition where skeletal muscles decline with age.

Drinking coffee may also reduce your risk of contracting certain types of cancer, a 2017 review said.

There is a limit to the benefits of coffee, however, and researchers recommend keeping your daily intake to around three to four 8-ounce cups of coffee.

Should I Drink My Coffee Plain?

While coffee can be good for you, mixing in too much sugar and cream can offset its benefits. If you’re planning on a workout, it might be best to drink only black coffee.

If you don’t like the taste of plain black coffee, try mixing in some simple milk. Milk in coffee may also reduce acid reflux, which can help anyone with a sensitive stomach.

Other ways you can learn to love a cup of black coffee include:

  • Experimenting with roasts and blends. Maybe you’ll love a fruity blend more than you will appreciate a strong dark roast coffee.
  • Trying a different brew method. You might enjoy French press black coffee more than drip-method coffee.
  • Gradually cutting back on the cream and sugar until you’re drinking plain coffee.
  • Switching out your usual coffee mug with a new one. A 2014 study discovered that the color of your cup could affect how you think coffee tastes.

“I suggest starting with one to two cups in the morning and observing how you feel. Also, take note of your digestion: does coffee increase your bowel movements? If so, it may be too irritating for your gut lining and microbiome,” advises Brittany. 

What If I Don’t Like Coffee?

Some people prefer pre-workout supplements that have caffeine in them, as this tends to be less irritating on the gut,” says Brittany. “Be cautious with these and carefully read the label. Anything more than 150mg of caffeine per supplement is a lot and probably not necessary.”

When it comes to workout drinks, it’s hard to go wrong with a simple glass of water. Staying hydrated during a training session will help you reach your peak performance. Losing 2 percent of your body weight in fluids can reduce performance by as much as 25 percent, according to WebMD.

It’s smart to plan and drink 15 to 20 ounces of water one to two hours before your workout routine, and 8 to 10 ounces again 15 minutes before you exercise. Then drink another cup at least every 15 minutes while you work out; more may be needed if you’re sweating hard.

Chocolate milk can make an excellent post-exercise drink. A 2012 review noted that low-fat chocolate has a comparable makeup to many commercial recovery drinks and that consuming it immediately after exercising and two hours later may help reduce muscle damage. A recent study stated drinking chocolate milk had similar or better results when compared to placebos and other post-exercise recovery drinks, but cautioned that more research with larger sample sizes is needed.

Regular cow’s milk may also help you feel better after working out by rehydrating you, reducing muscle soreness, and augmenting the synthesis of muscle protein—and it’s cheaper than most commercial recovery drinks. However, while some studies have concluded drinking milk after exercise has positive effects, other studies have observed no benefits, a 2019 review said.

Other Sources of Caffeine

Some people prefer pre-workout supplements that have caffeine in them, as this tends to be less irritating on the gut. Be cautious with these and carefully read the label. Anything more than 150mg of caffeine per supplement is a lot and probably not necessary. 

“Time the caffeine right as well. Since some people metabolize caffeine slowly, it can be best to have a cup of coffee an hour before the workout to fully feel the impact,” says Brittany Ford, RHN.

Lastly, remember to take “days off” from your caffeine and coffee consumption to give your liver and hormones a break. Consider cutting back on the weekends or rest days. Coffee can be addicting, so days without any can be useful to ensure you don’t become a coffee addict.

Tips to Reach Your Full Performance

A cup of Joe isn’t the only secret to a successful workout. The right diet and a good night’s sleep can make all the difference.

A food journal can help you track your eating habits. Recording your meals and snacks can make it clearer where you can eat better and where you should cut back.

The best way to get a good night’s rest is by following a set sleeping schedule. It’s important to try to stick to your sleep schedule even on your days off work. Sleeping in too much can throw off your internal clock and make it difficult to fall asleep at night.

Make sure you have not just a good mattress but a supportive pillow and breathable bedding. If your pillow can’t offer sufficient head and neck support, you can wake up with neck pain and headaches. Cool, breathable bedding can prevent sleep disturbances that might decrease your overall recovery.

If you want to develop a morning workout routine but aren’t a natural early riser, don’t worry. You can take steps to become a morning person. Soon, getting up early will be an ingrained habit, and you can make the most of your mornings.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you eat before or after a workout?

It’s smart to eat a meal laden with carbohydrates and proteins and light on fats three to four hours before a major workout. However, research suggests that exercising before you eat breakfast may help you burn fat better.

Feel free to experiment and see what works for you. If you feel too sluggish after eating to exercise, you might want to try a lighter snack or have your meal after your workout. If you find yourself getting distracted by hunger pangs when you workout, you might need to eat more before you start.

What is the best time to exercise?

There’s no one time of day that’s best for everyone when it comes to exercising. What’s important is to choose a time when you can consistently work out, according to the American Heart Association. For example, you might decide to work out for 30 minutes on your lunch hour.

You should also make sure the exercise is something you enjoy doing. That way, you’ll be motivated to repeat your workout.

Is it better to work out in the morning or at night?

The best time to work out is when you’ll feel motivated to exercise. If you’re a natural early riser, then a morning workout may suit you perfectly. However, if you’re a night owl with a busy schedule, an evening workout may suit you better.

What’s most important is to choose a workout time you’re likely to stick with until it becomes a routine.

What should you drink during a workout?

Water is a solid choice if you’re looking to stay hydrated while you work out. Flavored drinks are also okay, especially if you’re more motivated to drink a flavored than simple and plain water. As puts it, “The bottom line is hydration.”

Can you work out every day?

It’s not necessarily a bad idea to work out every day, but it’s also important to avoid overtraining. Overtraining is when you push yourself too far and exceed your body’s ability to recover after exercising.

Signs of overtraining include:

  • Excessive muscle soreness after exercising
  • Delayed recovery and prolonged fatigue
  • Inability to perform at a previously attainable level
  • Leg muscles feel “heavy” even during lighter exercises
  • A decline in sports performance
  • You think about quitting or forgoing a workout session
  • You’re more tense, angry, or depressed
  • You can’t relax or you’ve lost sleep

Taking a day off every week from strenuous workouts can help your body recover and improve your overall athletic performance. Your rest day can still include moderate activities such as walking or light jogging.

Did We Help?

Coffee before a workout session can improve your performance, but it might not be for everyone. If you have a sensitive stomach or a low tolerance for caffeine, you might want to try smaller doses of caffeine or just skip it altogether. After all, you don’t need to be a coffee drinker to have a successful workout.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

Michelle Zhang, Wellness Writer Michelle Zhang

Michelle Zhang is a regular contributor to our Zoma blog and is our go-to sleep researcher. In her time with Zoma, Michelle has researched and published many articles on widespread sleeping habits and troubles. In her time outside of Zoma, Michelle is an occupational therapist and long-distance runner. She believes leading a healthy lifestyle is the key to getting better sleep at night.

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