We’ve all witnessed it: the woman who walks into Spin class with a Starbucks cup in her hand or the photos of celebrities leaving the gym with their iced coffees.
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The benefits of ingesting caffeine before exercise have been studied since the late ’70s. These include boosts to your actual workout (known as ergogenic effects) as well as enhancing the positive effects of the exercise on your body.
So are these people onto something? And for that matter, if you’re going to consume caffeine, is it best to do it before, after or during your workout?
Before: Recommended If the Timing Is Right
Most of the studies on pre-exercise caffeine ingestion involve having the caffeine approximately one hour prior to working out. And that makes sense, considering caffeine is typically absorbed into the bloodstream within 15 to 45 minutes of consumption and hits its peak stimulatory effects in 30 to 75 minutes.
If the caffeine is consumed in the morning, these effects actually last up to six hours. That means if you drink your morning coffee at 8 a.m., you could work out at any time until 2 p.m. and not have to drink more coffee to experience the ergogenic benefits.
The ergogenic effects of caffeine enhance endurance training (e.g., running, cycling) by releasing more fuel into your bloodstream from your fat tissues. They enhance high-intensity strength training by blunting your pain response and delaying fatigue.
If you want to further enhance the benefits of coffee — like for a big race — try abstaining from caffeine for at least seven days before you want to achieve the maximum benefit. If you’re a normal coffee drinker, this allows your body to cycle off the effects of your previous caffeine buildup, ultimately giving you the greatest chance of optimizing the ergogenic effect.
In addition to giving your workout a boost, studies show that drinking caffeine one hour before a workout increases the calories burned for the three hours after the workout! It also improves how well your body burns calories when it’s not even working out. How? By giving your metabolism a boost.
You may be wondering whether ingesting caffeine prior to a workout will be dehydrating. Actually, although caffeinated drinks may have a mild diuretic effect, they don’t appear to increase the risk of dehydration. There are, however, other side effects to drinking too much caffeine that could be dangerous for your workout. These include dizziness, anxiety, sleeping problems and gastrointestinal issues. The recommended amount of caffeine to boost exercise performance is approximately 3 to 7 milligrams per 1 pound of weight. So, for a 150-pound person, that would be between two and five 6-ounce cups of strong coffee. So don’t overdo it!
During: Not Recommended
Since the lag time for caffeine’s ergogenic effects is about 30 minutes, if you’re planning to work out for that amount of time, don't drink caffeine in the middle of your workout; you might just miss the boat on the effects of the caffeine. But if you’re planning on doing a long run or bike ride, it could be worth it to bring along some food or drink supplements (like gels) that contain caffeine.
However, since the effects of caffeine last for up to six hours, you may not need it. Plus, the mild diuretic effects of caffeine can work quickly, so it may save you a trip to the bathroom in the middle of your sweat session.
Although there were two studies in 2007 and 2008 that illustrated the potential benefits of ingesting caffeine after exercise, there were significant limitations to those studies. They were also both conducted some time ago, leaving us with little recent evidence to provide a reliable recommendation. So it’s really up to your personal preference whether you feel like having a cup of joe after your workout. However, keep in mind that there are certain nutrients your body needs after a workout to replenish your muscles and help you recover and get stronger, so focus on those after a depleting routine.
In summary, try one cup of coffee one hour before your workout and see how it changes your experience. Afterward, try to eat a combination of protein and carbohydrates to help your body and muscles recover. Peanut butter and bananas make a great post-workout snack!
What Do YOU Think?
When it comes to working out, how do you take your coffee? Do you think caffeine is good or bad for the body? Will you drink more or less of it based on these findings?