File under: pressing questions you wonder while you're on the elliptical. 

By Betty Gold
August 22, 2019
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Whatever way you slice it, coffee is packed with promising health benefits. It’s been shown to increase your energy levels and metabolic rate, lower your risk of depression, and decrease your chances of getting type 2 diabetes.

Speaking of energy levels, many of us (myself included) cannot leave the house without a cup—or two—of coffee. We rely on it to bring us back to life in the morning, which is all fun and games until we started wondering, should we really be sipping this stuff before we work out in the a.m.?

Indeed, if you’ve ever questioned whether a strenuous spin class or should-be-zen yoga session could be tampered by starting with a piping hot cup of acidic coffee, you’re not alone. Where do the stomach issues, shakiness, anxiety, and other potential side effects of coffee come into play? Caffeine is, after all, a stimulant—this can be in your favor, fitness-wise, or against it. 

So which is it: should we be starting our workout with a cup of joe or saving it until the end? According to Brittany Michels, MS, RD, and nutrition expert for The Vitamin Shoppe, drinking coffee before you work out in the morning is totally fine—in fact, it actually offers plenty of potential benefits to your fitness routine. (Sigh of relief.) There are some exemptions, which we’ll get to.

Here’s what Michels has to say about pairing caffeine and exercise.

Potential benefits of drinking coffee before exercise

According to Michels, “Consuming pre-workout caffeine may up your metabolism, suppress the effect on perceived exertion, improve microcirculation, and enhance your athletic performance. It is important to note, however, that coffee is one of many caffeinated options that may offer these benefits.” So if you aren’t a java drinker but still want the benefits that caffeine has to offer, you can find other delicious options here.

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There’s also research that suggests that pre-workout caffeine may increase caloric burn for several hours post-exercise. “For those looking for a metabolic boost, caffeine from coffee can be a smart option,” Michels adds.

She encourages anyone interested in pairing coffee with exercise to find the right amount of caffeine that works for you, as the side effects vary based on caffeine dosages, duration, and type of activity. “There is consistency in the recommendation that athletes need to determine dosage tolerance and benefits on an individual basis,” she says. Generally speaking, the sweet spot for caffeine consumption is about 20 minutes prior to exercise.

Who should be cautious?

According to Michels, anyone with a caffeine sensitivity or queasy stomach should start with a smaller dose of caffeinated coffee and gradually increase it. “Signs that you’ve exceeded what works for your body are an upset stomach, nausea, increased heartbeat, or heart palpitations.”

Some notice the above benefits at 50 to 100 milligrams pre-workout, while others observe improvements in the 300 to 400 milligrams range. There’s also some that notice zero benefits. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all recommendation when it comes to coffee and caffeine consumption,” Michels explains. Also, if your workout objective is to feel calmer, it’s probably best to skip the caffeine entirely.

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A word on post-workout caffeine

If you drink coffee post-workout to get through the day, be sure to assess sleep and stress levels and your diet regimen. Some that rely on caffeine may need to address the root cause of their poor energy levels. “Always important to note that caffeine consumption close to bedtime can disrupt our natural sleep cycle. If you need a pre-workout boost at night, consider a non-caffeinated energy source, such as maca or beet root,” recommends Michels.

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