Can Drinking Coffee Improve My Workout?

By: Meredith Price

Published: February 5, 2019

In the United States, about 64% of the population drink a daily cup of coffee. There are many reasons we choose to consume this drink aside from simply enjoying the taste. The caffeine that coffee contains may help wake us up, improve our mood, and give us more energy, focus and a feeling of elevated alertness. To add to all of these benefits that caffeine provides, it is actually considered an ergogenic which means that it can enhance exercise performance. Caffeine’s impact on exercise was first studied in the late 1970s on elite cyclists. Results indicated that caffeine allowed these athletes to train harder for a longer duration of time. Since then, numerous studies have concluded that consumption of caffeine prior to and during exercise improves athletic outcomes in various sports such as running, tennis, golf, volleyball, soccer and rugby. Study results are mixed on whether or not caffeine is beneficial for other activities such as resistance and strength training. Caffeine was actually considered a banned substance in competitive sports until 2004 but is now legal and supported through organizations such as the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN).

There are no definitive guidelines on the best way or time to ingest caffeine for its ergogenic effects and therefore should be determined on an individual basis. The ISSN position paper on caffeine and performance concludes that the substance in supplement form is more effective than in a cup of coffee. However, numerous studies done on athletes consuming caffeine via coffee had improved results. The protocol for most studies had athletes ingest caffeine one hour prior to exercise to ensure that it had been absorbed. Caffeine tends to be absorbed relatively quickly, within 5-10 minutes of ingestion and peaks around 40-80 minutes, so it may still be beneficial to ingest within half an hour of exercise. Regarding the amount of caffeine that leads to improved athletic performance, there does seem to be a threshold. Lower to moderate doses (~200mg-400mg or the equivalent of 2-4 cups of coffee) leads to to enhanced performance while anything higher does not seem to improve it any further. The National Institute of Health states that 400-500 mg of caffeine per day, the equivalent of about 4-5 cups of coffee, is considered relatively safe. Amounts higher than this can have negative effects such as increased heart rate, higher blood lactate levels, increased blood lipids, stomach upset, feeling nervous or confused, the inability to focus, and insomnia.

Although there are great benefits to combining exercise with caffeine consumption, certain individuals should use it sparingly, if at all. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should limit caffeine consumption to no more than 200-300 mg per day. Those who have hypertension or are at risk of heart conditions should consult their physician before consuming caffeine for exercise purposes. Due to limited research, children are not encouraged to consume caffeine, particularly from sources such as energy drinks or shots. If you prefer to obtain caffeine from supplements, look for certified products from NSF, USP, Informed Choice, or Informed Sports as these organizations screen products for validity and safety (the FDA doesn’t regulate dietary supplements). If you are choosing to drink coffee as your source, it’s best to do so black or with the addition of a low-fat or non-dairy milk rather than with sugars, syrups, and creams as those will lead to unnecessary increased calorie intake.

Caffeine can be a great addition to your exercise routine as it may help improve your endurance, overall performance, mood and alertness. Determine your own needs by how much caffeine allows you to work out to your greatest potential while not leading to any negative side effects. Now you have even more of a reason to enjoy your morning coffee or treat yourself to an afternoon cup!