We all want to hit our workouts harder, make them more efficient, and get better results. A huge sports nutrition industry has blossomed as a result, with a ton of stimulating supplements marketed towards fitness enthusiasts looking to maximize their performance and bring their A-game every time they hit the gym.
But you might not have to run to your nearest sports supplement store for pre-workout – you probably already have a great energizing workout aid in your pantry! Coffee’s energizing effects can help keep you focused and energized during a workout. Here’s what you need to know about your daily cup of joe and how it can help you be a better athlete inside and outside of the gym.
4 ways that your cup of coffee can help your fitness
Energy and endurance
Caffeine, the key energizing ingredient in coffee, works by blocking the neurochemical adenosine from binding to receptors. Adenosine is partially responsible for inhibiting your nervous system and making you feel sleepy, so drinking caffeine can help stop that “depressant” effect and make you more alert. The resulting energizing effect is actually what classifies caffeine as a stimulant! Because of this, coffee is often used by athletes as an ergogenic aid to boost both energy levels and athletic performance.
Coffee might also help you last longer as an athlete! This has been tested with several different athletic activities, including running and cycling, and researchers have found that caffeine consumption is often positively correlated with increased endurance and/or decreased perception of exhaustion. One hypothesis supports the idea that caffeine in coffee stimulates your central nervous system, which lowers how much pain you might feel post-workout. Based on this theory, you could increase endurance and keep up your performance for longer when using caffeine as an aid.
Helps burn fat
Using a caffeinated pre-workout aid could also be good news if you’re looking to lose body fat. While drinking coffee on its own isn’t going to help “burn fat,” caffeine can help speed up your rate of fat oxidation, or the process in which fatty acids are broken down, in response to the right diet and exercise regimen. A study found that pairing a serving size of 3 mg of caffeine with subsequent exercise tests increased fat oxidation in study participants by 29% in the afternoon and 10.7% in the morning. So interestingly enough, you may be able to maximize these fat-burning benefits if you like doing a midday workout by drinking an afternoon coffee!
Besides its focus and stamina-boosting effects, you might also experience gains when you drink coffee after your workout since it can help with the muscle recovery process. Your body generally draws on glucose (or broken-down carbohydrates) in your blood to use as fuel. But under certain circumstances, like high-intensity exercise, your body might also draw from your glycogen stores, a form of glucose stored in your muscles. Once those glycogen stores are depleted they will then need to be replenished as part of your muscle recovery process.
Research suggests that caffeine can help speed up this process. One study compared the rate of glycogen resynthesis between a study group that ate only carbohydrates and a group that paired carbohydrates and caffeine after exhaustive exercise. The researchers found that the group that had both carbohydrates and caffeine in their post-workout recovery meals saw a 66% higher rate of resynthesis when compared to the group that ate carbohydrates alone!
Caffeine isn’t the only star of the show here––coffee itself is also a fairly healthy food when consumed in moderation. Coffee beans are full of polyphenols, or plant-based micronutrients, that play a wide range of beneficial roles in your body like fighting inflammation, minimizing oxidative stress with antioxidants, and even protecting you from increased risk factors for metabolic syndrome and hypertension.
Is there such a thing as too much coffee?
While coffee can play many beneficial roles in your fitness regimen and overall health, it also comes with some potential downsides as well.
For one, ingesting caffeine can raise your blood pressure, and this could be especially concerning for people who are already dealing with hypertension.
It might also impact cortisol, aka “stress hormone,” levels. For example, one study found that cortisol levels increased in both men and women after consuming caffeine. And unfortunately, high cortisol levels have been linked to issues like decreased insulin secretion and higher midsection measurements.
Excessive caffeine consumption also has its share of side effects like anxiety, sleepless nights, headaches, and tachycardia (rapid heart rate). Some people might also find that coffee consumption contributes to gastrointestinal discomfort, especially at higher caffeine doses.
Finally, the caffeine from coffee can be habit-forming, which is something to keep in mind if you plan on drinking it frequently. Since it is a drug, developing a dependence can lead to increased tolerance to its effects and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms upon cutting down or eliminating caffeine. The development of caffeine dependence can depend on many factors like your genetics and personal threshold for caffeine, so this can vary from person to person.
How to maximize your athletic performance with coffee
Watch the additions
Coffee on its own is pretty bitter, so it’s fairly common for other ingredients like sugar, syrups, artificial sweeteners, and milk to be added to mellow out the taste and make it more palatable. Unfortunately, those additions also come with extra simple sugars, calories, and/or dietary fat that you might not want if you’re shooting for physique goals like cutting fat. This is also a big reason that sugary beverages like soda are usually not recommended as an aid for boosting your athletic performance despite their caffeine content!
If you’re concerned about how those extra additions might be inhibiting your progress, try drinking your coffee black (i.e., without any added milk, sugar, or sweetener). Alternatively, you can also try looking for coffee pairings that don’t contain any added sugars.
Consume the right portion
As with all things in your diet, moderation is key, and this is especially true for caffeine since it can come with such noticeable side effects. According to the International Society Of Sports Nutrition, the ideal serving size of caffeine for boosting your athletic performance would be about 3-6 mg/kg. So, for example, an adult male weighing 180 lbs, or roughly 82 kg, would want to drink between 246-492 mg of caffeine (or somewhere between 2-5 cups of coffee) for the best results.
Also, use caution if you aren’t used to consuming caffeine. Until you know how caffeine affects your body, try sticking with smaller amounts, like one cup of coffee, before adding more to your diet (if necessary). It’s also a good idea to speak with a nutritionist or medical professional for more information on the right caffeine dosage to support your goals.
Avoid caffeine close to bedtime
Because of its stimulating effect, caffeine consumption can make it much harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. It can take hours to eliminate caffeine from your system (half-life up to 9.5 hours for some people!). So if you find that your late-day pre-workout coffee is interfering with your sleep cycle, limit your consumption to earlier in the day to give your body ample time to get rid of the stimulant before bedtime.
Coffee can be a valuable tool to give your workouts a boost, but moderation is key. If you’re looking for ways to enhance your athletic performance, add a cup of coffee or two to your pre-workout routine to see just how far it can take you!