Is It Better to Drink Coffee Before or After You Exercise? The Answer Might Surprise You

Let’s answer the pressing question you wonder while you're on the elliptical.

We know that coffee (in moderation) is good for us. 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 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 with by starting with a piping hot cup of acidic coffee, you're not alone. When do the stomach issues, shakiness, anxiety, and other potential side effects of coffee come into play? Caffeine is, after all, a stimulant—which 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, 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.) That said, there are a few exceptions, too.

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

Potential Benefits of Drinking Coffee Before Exercise

"Consuming pre-workout caffeine may rev up your metabolism, suppress the effect of perceived exertion, improve microcirculation, and enhance your athletic performance," says Michels. She adds that coffee is one of many caffeinated beverages that may offer these benefits. So if you aren't a java drinker, but still want the benefits that caffeine has to offer, you have other options.

Some other research 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. "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.

Getty Images

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 benefits at 50 to 100 milligrams pre-workout, while others observe improvements in the 300 to 400 milligrams range. There are 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.

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. "Caffeine consumption close to bedtime can disrupt our natural sleep cycle," says Michels. "If you need a pre-workout boost at night, consider a non-caffeinated energy source, such as maca or beet root."

Was this page helpful?
Real Simple is committed to using high-quality, reputable sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts in our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we fact check our content for accuracy.
  1. Barcelos RP, Lima FD, Carvalho NR, Bresciani G, Royes LF. Caffeine effects on systemic metabolism, oxidative-inflammatory pathways, and exercise performance. Nutr Res. 2020;80:1-17. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2020.05.005

  2. Navarro AM, Abasheva D, Martínez-González MÁ, et al. Coffee consumption and the risk of depression in a middle-aged cohort: the SUN ProjectNutrients. 2018;10(9):1333 doi:10.3390/nu10091333

  3. Jiang, X., Zhang, D. & Jiang, W. Coffee and caffeine intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a meta-analysis of prospective studiesEur J Nutr 53, 25–38 (2014). doi:10.1007/s00394-013-0603-x

  4. Fernández-Elías VE, Del Coso J, Hamouti N, Ortega JF, Muñoz G, Muñoz-Guerra J, Mora-Rodríguez R. Ingestion of a moderately high caffeine dose before exercise increases postexercise energy expenditure. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015;25(1):46-53. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.2014-0037

Related Articles