Caffeine is a powerful energizer that’s found in many popular drinks and supplements, so as an athlete, you may consider trying it as a pre-workout aid for greater performance benefits.
Drinking a cup of coffee or taking an energy supplement before a tough training session or long run may actually make a substantial difference in boosting endurance levels and providing extra motivation to help you maximize your results.
“Consuming coffee or caffeine before a workout helps provide you with the energy that you need for an effective workout, and it can improve your performance by enabling you to work out longer and harder than you may otherwise,” dietitian Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, says.
And on those days where you wake up sore and fatigued, or where you’ve had a bad workday and would much rather relax on the couch instead of head to the gym, a little bit of caffeine can go a long way.
Since caffeine increases mental alertness, focus, and physical stamina, it can get you in the right mindset and sufficiently energize your body to prime you for kicking ass and performing at your best. These are the top ways in which caffeine can optimize your training and race performance, along with how best to incorporate its use into your schedule.
5 Ways to Maximize the Endurance-Boosting Capabilities of Caffeine Before Exercise
1. Consume Caffeine 30 Minutes Before a Workout
Once you've had a cup of coffee or consumed caffeine, make sure to wait 30 minutes before exercising to reap the maximum benefits.
You can do this by taking energy capsules, drinking caffeinated tea like matcha, or having a cup of coffee. Plus, coffee has a laxative effect, so many athletes — long-distance runners in particular — want to use the bathroom before starting a training session, too.
“For the most part, 30 minutes prior to a workout is an ideal time to consume caffeine without concern for digestion or gut issues,” Best says.
2. Find Your “Sweet Spot” to Avoid Overdoing Pre-Workout Caffeine Intake
The amount of caffeine needed to best optimize your performance may depend on how your body tolerates and responds to caffeine, and you can figure out your ideal number through some trial and error.
You don’t want to exceed your tolerance threshold, where consumption may backfire and lead to jitters, paranoia, gastrointestinal (GI) pain, and any other symptoms due to overstimulation or increased laxative effects. Finding your individual “sweet spot” helps you maximize workout performance and achieve greater training results.
Typically, pre-workout caffeine intake is around 200 milligrams, which is a value that can optimize workout performance efficiently without overdoing it on your GI system or causing overstimulation.
Consuming over 400 milligrams of caffeine within 30 minutes of working out can cause some gastrointestinal distress, which often reveals itself mid-workout in the form of cramps and abdominal pain, along with the urgent need to use the bathroom. (Yikes.)
3. Pair Caffeine With Water and Electrolytes to Stabilize Hydration
“Don't forget to hydrate,” Best advises.
Drinking caffeine before a workout (and thus likely using the restroom, too), may lead to a loss in electrolytes, fluid supply, and water. These depletions can negatively impact hydration levels.
“Avoid dehydration by continuing to hydrate with water or an electrolyte drink — before and during your workout — as a complement to your caffeine usage,” Best says.
A simple way to achieve this is to keep a reusable water bottle handy throughout the entire day, and especially while training. And before you head to the gym or out on the roads or trails, pair your caffeine source with a glass of water, and consider a small pre-workout snack with a dose of electrolytes), depending on your workout duration and intensity.
4. Add a Dash of Cinnamon and MCTs for an Extra Boost
If. you're hitting the gym, medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), a healthy fat source, can help you get in ketosis and burn more fat. However, as usual, it’s all about moderation. You don’t want to drink a cup of coffee that’s too heavy in MCT oil, ghee, or butter, since it’ll likely cause lethargy and end up weighing you down instead.
“Don't rely on caffeinated mixed drinks made with high-fat ingredients and dairy, since these types of drinks can cause gastrointestinal distress during a workout and have the opposite effect of what you're wanting,” Best explains.
Some people may tolerate the use of dairy in coffee better than others, so you’ll need to regulate consumption based on your individual needs. Above all else, don't try this for the first time on a race day.
“If you're putting MCT or ghee into your coffee before a workout, make sure that you have tested your personal tolerance prior,” Best says.
If you’re in the clear, you may experience benefits in training and workout performance due to the body’s increased fat burning. But if you do experience GI issues (nausea, increased bowel movements, etc) shortly after drinking a caffeinated beverage consisting of high-fat ingredients, then ditch the add-ins and stick with basic, black coffee.
If it's just dairy causing the issue, you can certainly avoid this common allergen and still increase ketones in the body for increased fat burning. Supplementation with exogenous ketones is a simple way to avoid GI discomfort mid-workout, and you can even take them in a capsule form. This way, you’ll avoid filling your stomach with excess fluids pre-workout, and all of that awful bloating.
You can’t go wrong with a little bit of cinnamon and mild heat, though.
“Adding cinnamon to your coffee can help keep your blood sugar stable during a workout, which ensures that you're adequately fueled to better maintain physical energy output,” Best adds.
5. Keep On-the-Go Caffeine in Your Bag for an Evening Workout
An easy way to guarantee a pre-workout caffeine boost is to keep on-the-go packs of coffee stashed in your gym bag. Black Rifle Coffee Company’s on-the-go coffee options — including a medium-dark roast caffeine stick that you can simply mix into a water bottle — are insanely convenient options to enjoy an instant brew.
Just Black Cold Brew Packs are also great for those who keep a pitcher at home or train first thing in the morning, as you can just grab the pitcher and pour a cup before heading out the door. Ready-to-drink, packaged beverages, on the other hand, are great for those who train later in the day after work, since they’re portable. (Plus, they pack an awesome flavor punch.)
“They have 200 milligrams of caffeine, are naturally gluten-free, and provide seven grams of protein,” Best says. “Just note that these packs do contain milk, so those sensitive to dairy may want to find a plain coffee option."
However, there are only two grams of fat, and such a small amount isn’t likely a need for concern, she explains. As long as you tolerate dairy decently well and don’t have an allergy, you probably won't experience mid-workout GI issues.