Is Drinking Coffee Before a Workout a Good or Terrible Idea?

editor@purewow.com (PureWow)

Your alarm is blaring. It’s 6:30 a.m. and you booked a 7 a.m. spin class. You’ll be charged $20 if you skip it. Ugh, fine. There is one thing that could make this whole situation a little more tolerable, though: coffee.

But is it advisable to drink coffee before a workout? The short answer is yes. We’ll hedge all of this information with the reminder that water is the most important beverage before, during and after a sweat session. While coffee is typically totally fine—even beneficial—before exercising, you shouldn’t go right back to it after you leave the gym. Why? According to personal trainer David Middleton from Punch Run Lift, “I see a lot of people reaching straight for a coffee after a workout and that’s a big no-no from me. Rehydrate your body with water first before any caffeine.” OK, got it. Now let’s get back to the pros and cons of having coffee before working out, shall we?

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Pros of Drinking Coffee Before Working Out

1. It Could Enhance Your Performance

According to a review of studies by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, caffeine is an effective ergogenic aid for sustained maximal endurance activity, and has also been shown to be very effective for enhancing time trial performance. (Translation: Caffeine is an effective tool for helping you work out better and longer.) Timing matters, though. Caffeine’s effects on the body typically peak about one to two hours after you drink it, meaning you should aim to start your workout 45 to 60 minutes after downing a cup of joe to reap the maximum benefits.

2. It Could Help You Focus

A natural stimulant, caffeine has been shown time and time again (in studies like this one from the journal Psychopharmacology) to boost mental focus, alertness and general cognitive function. If you’ve ever half-assed your way through a slow-flow yoga class, you might benefit from the added concentration a cup of coffee can provide. Note that for many people there’s a thin line between harnessing caffeine’s focus-boosting powers and feeling jittery and anxious, so don’t chug five shots of espresso and expect to turn into Serena Williams—the normal amount of coffee your body is used to will suffice. 

3. It Could Make You Enjoy Your Workout More

OK, so this one isn’t super well researched, but one small study at Queensland’s Griffith University found that drinking caffeine before and after moderate exercise increased EE (energy expenditure) while improving exercise enjoyment. It’s a small study, sure. But hey, we’ll take it.

4. It Could Reduce Muscle Pain

According to a University of Rhode Island study, caffeine significantly reduced post-workout muscle soreness when compared to a placebo. The participants drinking coffee before doing upper-body weight training were also able to complete more reps on their final set. Results indicated that drinking caffeine before intense training improves athletic performance and lessens the amount of time for muscle recovery. 

Cons of Drinking Coffee Before Working Out

It Might Not Be Smart for Evening Exercisers

In many cases, coffee can be a welcomed addition to a fitness routine. One exception? If you’re someone who works out late at night. It’s generally agreed upon that you should stop drinking caffeine four to six hours before going to bed (there are obviously those unicorns who can end the night with an espresso and sleep like a baby, but you get it). Also, obviously, if you’re someone who has a rocky relationship with coffee for whatever reason, skip it and opt for caffeinated tea (plus water) instead.

The Best Food to Eat Before a Workout

Now that we’ve determined what to drink before a workout (water! coffee!), let’s chat food. Here are four expert-approved pre-workout snacks to try.

1. Peanut Butter Toast

“Have a slice of whole-wheat bread or a banana with a spoonful of peanut or almond butter for an excellent combination of both carbs and protein before your workout,” says sports dietitian Angie Asche. The carbohydrates will give you energy while protein helps muscle growth. Top tip: Go for nut butters that list only “peanuts” or “almonds” on the jar to avoid unnecessary sugars and oils.

2. Grapes and Cheese

“Fruit contains energy-boosting carbohydrates that are easy to digest and enjoy,” nutritionist Lindsey Joe explains. “They’re also full of satiating fiber and phytochemicals.” (Hey, it’s hard to focus on doing one more lap when your stomach is rumbling like a lawn mower.) Her go-to pre-workout snack is a handful of grapes with some low-fat string cheese, or clementine oranges with a few unsalted nuts.

3. Bananas

“Bananas are loaded with carbohydrates and potassium, and make excellent snacks before a workout,” Asche tells us. Like protein shakes, they're also an excellent way to fuel up on the go. 

4. Sweet Potatoes

“Sweet potatoes are rich in potassium, vitamin A and carbohydrates, and make a great source of fuel pre- or post-workout,” Asche says. But they’re also pretty filling, so this one’s best enjoyed one to two hours before a workout. (And, you know, maybe save the sour cream and cheese for a post-workout reward.)

What's the Bottom Line? 

All of this is to say that, as long as you're drinking plenty of water—regardless of your exercise regimen—a cup of coffee before your next workout is not only safe, but it could actually help you work out harder and longer. Remember the caveat about evening workouts (we don't want you staying up all night, after all), but assuming you're giving your body enough time to wind down, a little caffeine should be A-OK. 

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