Head down look at girl in workout clothes holding starbucks coffee cup

Can Caffeine Benefit My Workout?

Before I get started, let’s go ahead and get the disclaimer out of the way.  This post is not meant to bash any single company or brand that sells and promotes pre-workout or other caffeine supplements.  The purpose of this post is to talk about the science behind caffeine consumption and workout performance.

Known primarily for its brain-stimulating-effects, caffeine is also highly used in the fitness community.  Whether you take pre-workout, or have accidentally dosed yourself with an extra cup of coffee, caffeine DOES affect your workout.  The question then becomes, “is the caffeine benefiting or negatively affecting your sweat sesh?”

How Does Caffeine Work?

To determine whether caffeine may be helpful for you, we first need to understand what it does inside the body.  A major action of caffeine is to increase the release of epinephrine (adrenaline) from the adrenal glands.  With this increased epinephrine, your body begins to work in a fight or flight manner, increasing lipolysis (the breakdown of lipids) in order for you to have more free fatty acids (FFA) to use for energy.  This increased volume of FFA, allows your body to tap into your fat stores for immediate energy, and spare your muscle glycogen stores for later in your workout.

Which Athletes Benefit?

So, who would this benefit?  Endurance athletes.  In fact, several studies have shown that endurance athletes have improved performance when they begin exercise 1 hour after caffeine ingestion.  But, could it benefit us during a strength or high intensity workout?  Not so much.  Caffeine has shown to give have little effect on high intensity, short duration exercise.  The only case where this may be beneficial is if you are an elite athlete, train without caffeine, and then compete with caffeine.  But let’s be real; you’re not an elite athlete, or you wouldn’t be reading this.  Additionally, caffeine is banned by many sports organizations, so there’s that.

What Should I Do?

What does this mean for you?  It means to quit spending money on all the pre-workout (remember, I added a disclaimer!).  Seriously, though.  The science just doesn’t support them.  If you’re an endurance athlete and you think caffeine is helping you, you’re probably right.  Have a cup (or two) of coffee an hour before and you’ll likely push through those miles easier than before.  If you’re going to the gym to get jacked, however, just don’t waste your time or money.

In addition to the wasted money of pre-workouts, you can easily overdose on caffeine and end up having severe gastrointestinal issues (won’t go too much into this, you’re welcome) as well as other negative side effects.

If you do decide to continue or begin using caffeine for your endurance workouts (at least an hour long, people), stick to no more than 400-500mg.  Anything over this and you’ll feel like doody (no pun intended) (poop emoji).

Lastly, as with all things nutrition and exercise.  Humans are variable.  There is, without a doubt, a cost benefit relationship when it comes to caffeine.  Understanding how your body handles caffeine and finding what works for you is always the best solution.




Adrienne is a Certified Exercise Physiologist and holds a masters degree in Exercise Science. Her passion is to help people find a healthy balance between #IIFYM and #YOLO.

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