Want a
Better Workout?

Coffee benefits fitness Coffee benefits fitness

Want a
Better Workout?

Have a coffee beforehand

Fruit Punch. Electric lemonade. Sour watermelon. Orange Dream Pop. Sound appetizing? While these read like popsicle flavors, they're not—they're flavored pre-workout supplements. Frankly, none of these sound like something I want to guzzle down at 6 or 7 in the morning, which is when most people, myself included, hit the gym to lift weights and squeeze in their cardio. Of the 79% of Americans that say they work out, 50% said they preferred to do so in the morning. And I, for one, can't stomach these powdery, Stevia-forward mixed drinks crafted to taste like candy.

This might be my own sensitivity, though. Or my sensibility. I, like millions of others, prefer hot, black coffee first thing in the morning—especially if I'm doing anything before the break of dawn. And it seems, according to new research, I might be onto something.

A 2020 study aimed to determine whether the extent of caffeine's impact on exercise was merely surface-level. Does that burst of energy we feel from a cup of coffee just make us more alert and a little more willing to be in a brightly-lit studio surrounded by other, often loud, sometimes equally grumpy, people? Researchers found that, yes, coffee makes us more alert, but caffeine has a much more profound impact on physical performance than most realize.

Simply put, caffeine can help you feel more focused, workout harder, and recover quicker.


Coffee beans illustration

The study found caffeine increased alertness and decreased perceived exertion, which means hard exercises actually feel less difficult. In simpler terms, coffee makes us more capable. The study also found that caffeine could help preserve muscle glycogen. It's estimated that around the 15-minute mark of a workout, our blood's glucose level begins to drop. As such, your body starts burning your sugar reserves—aka glycogen, which is stored in your liver and your muscles. If your body burns the fatty acids released by coffee instead, you don't completely deplete your glycogen tank. And if your tank isn't emptied, you can recover faster.

Coffee beans illustration

This entire process is dependent on your current caffeine intake, though. If you're a regular coffee drinker—a cup a day, maybe two after a long night—you have nothing to worry about; all systems go. However, if you tend to avoid caffeine altogether, it is not a good idea to jump right in for the sake of improving your workout. You'll want to build up, start slow and incorporate it into your pre-workout routine only when you feel comfortable with how coffee makes you feel on a regular morning.


If you shock your system, you could end up jittery, with a rapid heart rate, or ... on the toilet instead of at the squat rack. As anyone who regularly works out knows, how you feel going into the session is half the battle. If you feel off, you can't possibly reach your full potential, no matter how much (or little) coffee you've had.

If you're concerned about relying on coffee as your pre-workout, or prefer to workout in the evening (when men actually burn fat faster), know that the aforementioned flavored powders typically contain far more caffeine. A standard eight ounce cup of coffee, for example, usually contains between 70 and 140 milligrams of caffeine. That's a wide range, sure, but still far less than your standard pre-workout. One popular formula, LEGION's Pulse pre-workout, contains upwards of 350 milligrams. For context, that's almost four cans of Red Bull. Yikes.

Coffee also goes down easier with a carbohydrate-rich breakfast like yogurt and granola or a fruit and nut bar. Plus, it's also more convenient to grab while you're on the way to the gym, not just queuing an elevator down to your apartment lobby. In that case, you should invest in a coffee setup quiet enough that your caffeine-fueled workout routine won't wake your sleeping partner (or roommate).


Coffee cup

In the brain, it blocks the effects of a chemical called adenosine, which makes you feel sleepy. It also boosts the flow of dopamine, a brain chemical that makes you feel happy and engaged with the world around you. But, like other drugs, it’s possible to develop a tolerance to caffeine, which means you may need bigger and bigger doses to achieve the same effect.

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