What you need to know
Whether you are lifting weights at the gym, going for a run, or doing any other type of high-intensity training, you probably have a routine. And getting hyped for your workout is part of it!
One important method of preparation is nutrition. Aside from eating healthy, many gym enthusiasts will consume products specifically designed to help them get the most out of their workout. While you can stick to natural food, many people turn to pre-workout supplements or even coffee.
What can a pre-workout or even a cup of coffee do for performance? Does it really help, or is it all mental? Which option is best?
This 3-minute article compares pre-workout and coffee for any level of training.
What is Pre-workout?
Pre-workout is a supplement that claims to boost workout performance. It usually comes in powdered form and is mixed with a liquid such as water or blended into a shake with other ingredients.
For optimal results, it should be consumed about 30 minutes before the workout begins.
Although initially popular amongst bodybuilders, today pre-workout supplements are used by professional, amateur and recreational athletes alike across a variety of sports.
Pre-workout supplements usually contain three different types of ingredients—stimulants, nootropics, and pump enhancers.
Stimulants are the most common ingredient in pre-workouts.
They block receptors in the brain from the chemicals that make you feel tired. Stimulants also give you a jolt of energy.
The most popular stimulant in pre-workouts is caffeine It contains many performance-enhancing benefits, such as increased energy levels, and increased metabolism. Besides, caffeine acts as a nootropic in that it allows the brain to be more alert and focused.
Nootropics stimulate the brain and are used to boost cognitive performance. When used as a pre-workout, they stimulate neurons as well as increase blood and oxygen flow to the brain, giving you a feeling of increased motivation and more in-depth focus.
Pump enhancers increase nitric acid, which increases blood flow to the muscles. These boosts power output and performance. Also, pump enhancers can reduce fatigue and decrease muscle soreness after a workout. They include:
L-arginine – a nitrogen dioxide booster. Expands veins and arteries, making it easier for blood to flow around your body, delivering nutrients quicker and more efficiently.
L-citrulline – promotes aerobic energy production, and gets oxygen and nutrients to the muscles.
Creatine – increases physical performance during short-term, high-intensity training. Boosts muscle mass and strength gains. Some may argue that this ingredient is non-essential for pre-workout nutrition.
BCAAs – also known as Branch Chain Amino Acids, can improve endurance during a workout. They can increase strength by maintaining cellular energy and supporting protein synthesis. Also, they increase fat oxidation.
Protein – can increase muscle protein synthesis, improves muscle recovery, increases strength and lean body mass, increased muscle performance, and increases muscle growth.
Beta-alanine – can delay fatigue. However, there is little gain in performance. Besides, too much could negatively affect taurine levels causing impaired vision, depression, anxiety, hypertension, problems with endurance and recovery, and weight gain.
Carbohydrates – contain glucose which the muscles use for fuel. For any type of exercise, your body’s glycogen stores are the primary source of energy.
L-theanine – when combined with caffeine, the energy increase is experienced as more smooth than anxious. Therefore, you won’t get the “jitters.” L-theanine is an active ingredient in Matcha green tea and can reduce stress and improve sleep.
Is it bad to take pre-workout & coffee together?
Despite all these ingredients, caffeine is the stimulant most often found in pre-workout supplements. So, what about a cup of coffee before a workout?
Did you know that from the 1960s to the early 1980s bodybuilders would drink a cup of coffee before a workout? They believed that this gave them that extra edge that they needed before working out.
The first pre-workout drink was called Ultimate Orange, invented by Dan Duchaine in Venice, California in 1982. However, shortly afterward, he faced several lawsuits since the active ingredient, ephedra, allegedly caused heart attacks in its users.
Nowadays, there are many healthy pre-workout options.
But, exercising caution is always a good idea when purchasing. Workout enthusiasts should always read the food and warning labels.
What about a pre-workout along with a coffee? Professionals say this is a very individualized question. The biggest concern is the amount of caffeine that will enter the body.
Everyone has different tolerance levels, so it is hard to give a definitive yes or no to this question.
Caffeine stimulants the adrenal glands. Therefore, when drinking a coffee or a pre-workout, your body’s fight-or-flight response mechanism is activated, which releases adrenaline and raises stress hormone levels.
While coffee has a lot of great health benefits, too much repetitive stress can cause your adrenal glands to burn out, which can give rise to many adverse side effects.
These include fatigue, impaired ability to recover from workouts, mood swings, low libido, stagnation in training and performance, out of synch circadian rhythms, and feeling “wired yet tired” at night.
The main thing is not to overdo it. If you decide to consume both a pre-workout and a coffee, make sure not to go over the daily recommended caffeine intake.
This amount varies according to a person’s weight, but in general, it is between 200-400mg. One cup of coffee contains about 100mg of caffeine.
It is interesting to note that the World Anti-Doping Association banned high dosages of caffeine from 1984 – 2004 for Olympic athletes.
But caffeine is currently on the WADA monitoring list of substances to watch out for due to health concerns or violating the spirit of the sport.
Previously anything over 12 microgram/ml of caffeine in a urine sample would constitute a positive test. That is equivalent to about eight espressos in just a few hours.
How long before a workout should I drink coffee?
Coffee can be used as a pre-workout as it contains caffeine. Coffee also enhances fat-burning during exercise; therefore, drinking a cup before a workout can help you shed those few extra pounds.
Coffee also strengthens muscle contractions. It can reduce your perception of pain and supports endurance.
According to an article in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition “Caffeine acts as an adenosine receptor antagonist and has been shown to acutely improve cognition as well as performance during endurance, power, and resistance exercise when consumed in dosages between 3 and 6 mg/kg body weight.”
This means that caffeine alone can help you focus and improve your physical performance when training.
Not only that, coffee contains antioxidants, vitamin b2, b5, manganese, potassium, magnesium, and niacin. Let’s break down the benefits:
B- Vitamins – Vitamins B2 and B5 play essential roles in energy production and efficiency.
Manganese – a trace mineral that aids bone formation and bone health in general.
Potassium – aids bodily functions such as smooth muscle contractions, heart health, digestive regulation, and carrying electricity throughout your system.
Magnesium – aids cognitive function, supports the immune system, provides energy, keeps the heart strong and healthy, improves muscle function, and strengthens bones.
Niacin – Also known as vitamin B3 boosts DNA repair. Aides metabolism and nervous system function.
It takes about 15 – 45 minutes for the stomach to absorb the caffeine. Despite this, it takes about 30-75 minute after drinking coffee to feel its effects.
Due to this, it is recommended to drink a cup about 1 hour before working out.
Remember, coffee is a diuretic, which can lead to dehydration. So be sure to drink enough water and do not over your coffee intake before a workout.
One cup of coffee or espresso is sufficient to consume before a workout. A general rule of thumb is that for every cup of coffee you drink, you should also drink an 8 oz glass of water.
Coffee vs Pre-workout – The Verdict
What is the better choice: a coffee or pre-workout before training? Some may say that the safer option is coffee.
It is natural (as long as you drink it without artificial sweeteners or processed creams). While both coffee and pre-works contain caffeine, pre-workouts mostly consists of caffeine monohydrate, which is a synthetic lab-made version of caffeine.
The biggest concern surrounding pre-workouts are that some companies add harmful chemicals to their formula. Some pre-workouts have been found to contain compounds similar to methamphetamine.
While these compounds in your pre-workout supplement may feel good during your workout, athletes put themselves at risk for a heart attack and other unknown dangers.
Since there are limitations on labeling supplements, the FDA recommends speaking with your health care provider before using any dietary supplements.
Good news for all coffee drinking gym-goers out there: a cup of coffee does not have to be limited to before a workout.
After your gym session is over, you can relax and treat yourself to your favorite beverage! In a 2008 article, the American Physiological Society found that caffeine intake post-exercise may help refuel muscles if taken in combination with carbohydrates.
Remember, fluid intake and sleep is essential for exercise regardless of the type of stimulant you choose. Make sure to drink enough water to stay hydrated and get enough rest!
As always, if choosing pre-workout to get your exercise going, make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and your doctor’s advice.
Nada Shawish Dutka
Business woman, traveler, and blogger at hotmugcoffee.com, your online resource for all things coffee. The key to her heart (and to keeping the engine running) is coffee, and she’s sipped and savored a lot of coffee around the world over the years. She’s on a mission to bring great coffee and the warm fuzzy feeling of coffee culture into your home and life: every cup, every day, every time.