Caffeine and Exercise: The Surprising Truth

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According to the National Coffee Association (NCA), 83 percent of people in the U.S. drink a cup of coffee during breakfast. Whether you're a morning person or a night owl, when that alarm goes off, odds are you’re going to want a nice, hot cup of coffee.

Many of us feel like we can’t function without our A.M. dose of caffeine, or that we aren’t fully awake until we’ve had it because our mind is groggy or fuzzy. Well, technically we’re right. Caffeine can make you more alert, put you in a better mood, and make you feel less tired—and it’s been known to improve your physical work ethic and mental capacity.

Coffee stirred with spoon 

Sounds pretty great, right? But what about before a workout? Could caffeine be a beneficial inclusion to your exercise routine? Surprisingly—yes!

The FitMyFoot brand is committed to providing useful health and fitness tips. We want to ensure that everyone has the proper tools to live an active, healthy lifestyle. That’s why it’s our pleasure to offer you this comprehensive analysis of caffeine, and the many ways it can enhance your workout/exercise endeavors.

 

Is caffeine safe before a workout?

Although it might sound counter-intuitive, caffeine is a safe and effective tool that can help you take your workout above and beyond—when consumed in moderation, of course. Intaking up to 400 mg (milligrams) of caffeine a day is safe for most healthy adults, however drinking less than 200 mg (1 or 2 cups of coffee) before a workout allows for caffeine to reach its peak effectiveness while still remaining well in the safe-zone for consumption.

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How does caffeine help with exercise?

Caffeine has many performance-enhancing effects and is generally accepted by most sports scientists as an effective ergogenic aid—meaning it has the ability to enhance your physical performance, stamina, and recovery rate. Not only that, its stimulating effects on the central nervous system can decrease your sensation of fatigue, reduce your perception of work effort, and even improve your pain tolerance.


girl stretching on ground

  • Sensation of fatigue: Caffeine activates the areas of your brain and nervous system that improve energy and focus, and reduce tiredness. It also increases circulating epinephrine—commonly known as adrenaline—the hormone in charge of the “fight or flight” response, which allows for increased performance.

  • Perception of work effort: The ergogenic effect changes a person's perception of how much effort they’re putting forth while exercising. In other words, caffeine gives exercisers a boost in energy so they feel stronger and tend to push themselves harder.

  • Pain Tolerance: Interestingly enough, caffeine is actually a pain reliever. It helps reduce inflammation, and can provide quick relief for a number of symptoms. It also boosts the efficacy of common headache remedies such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen.

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    Should you have caffeine before you exercise?


    That’s the question of the day, isn’t it? To help you make an informed decision, let’s take a look at some of the positives and negatives of consuming caffeine before a workout.


    Positives:


  • It can enhance your performance: Caffeine has been shown to be very effective in enhancing time trial performance and endurance. The effects typically peak about one to two hours after consumption, so aim to start your workout 45 to 60 minutes afterwards.

  • It can help you focus: Because it’s a natural stimulant, caffeine has been shown to boost mental focus, alertness and general cognitive function—which can help you blast through your workout routine with energy to spare.

  • It can reduce muscle pain: Caffeine significantly reduces post-workout muscle soreness. Drinking it before intense training improves athletic performance and lessens the amount of time for muscle recovery.

  • It might help you enjoy your workout more: Drinking caffeine before and after moderate exercise increases energy expenditure, improving your likelihood of success in a specific exercise—which in turn can drastically enrich your overall enjoyment.

  • There are some incredible advantages caffeine can provide when paired with exercise. However, there are definitely some negatives associated with caffeine as well.

     


    Negatives:


  • Too much caffeine: Unfortunately it’s rather easy to drink more than the recommended amount. Regular use of more than 600 mg might cause anxiety, restlessness, tremors, irregular heartbeat, headaches, migraines, and trouble sleeping. Keep in mind that caffeine content varies widely in beverages, especially among energy drinks.

  • High blood pressure: Caffeine has been shown to raise blood pressure levels. High intake has also been associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Even small amounts can still increase your heart rate and make your blood pressure rise.

  • Sleeping problems: You should stop drinking caffeine about four to six hours before going to bed. If you’re someone who exercises in the afternoon or at night, you might want to skip the caffeine. It can make falling asleep difficult, and can reduce your quality of sleep.

  • Caffeine sensitivity: People who have panic attacks shouldn’t use large amounts of caffeine. They might be more sensitive to its effects, which can trigger nervousness and anxiety. If you’re someone who has a rocky relationship with caffeine, skip it and go for water or a sports drink instead.

  • So, now that you have all the facts, it’s up for you to decide if you want to implement caffeine into your workout routine. Whatever you decide to do, remember that everyone’s body and tolerance levels are different, so always use a healthy dose of discretion when making decisions regarding your health.

     

    Important reminder:

    girl drinking water against wall

    Speaking of health—WATER is the most important beverage before, during and after exercise. While caffeine is totally fine (even beneficial) before a workout, you shouldn’t have more of it after you leave the gym. If you can’t resist, however, then make sure—at the very least—that you rehydrate your body with water first.

     

    As long as you're drinking plenty of water, a cup of coffee or an energy drink before your next workout is not only safe, but it could actually help you work out longer and harder. Regardless of your exercise regimen—a little caffeine beforehand should be more than fine.

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