Should you drink coffee before a workout?

People use all sorts of tricks to get themselves ready for a really effective workout.

They eat a certain breakfast, or get up at a certain time, maybe there’s even a specific outfit that makes you feel more motivated, more powerful.

But there’s an age-old debate about drinking coffee before a fitness session. Should you do it? Will it supercharge your workout?

A 2020 study found that drinking coffee before a 5km cycling trial improved people’s physical performance by on average 1.7%.

Other studies have found that coffee can boost physical endurance by suppressing pain, reducing fatigue and improving neuromuscular performance.

But if you’re one of those people who reacts to coffee with trembling hands, a racing heart, or even having to run to the loo for an emergency poo – is drinking coffee before hitting the gym really a smart idea?

Registered nutritionist and founder of Rhitrition, Rhiannon Lambert, explains why people react to coffee in different ways, and how it could impact your workout:

‘The active ingredient in coffee is caffeine, which is a stimulant and the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance (a chemical that changes brain function) in the world,’ says Rhiannon.

‘Many people choose to drink coffee before they work out as it can improve physical and mental performance.

‘Consuming at least 3mg of caffeine/kg body weight, one hour before you exercise can improve endurance performance – and at least 4 mg of caffeine/kg body weight reduces perceived effort during exercise.

‘Caffeine has also shown to increase alertness. All of these effects can greatly improve training outcomes.’

Dr Sunni Patel, a clinician scientist and gut health influencer, says that consuming a total of 300-400mg of coffee per day is the safe upper limit.

‘It comes down to personal preference in regards how to take it, but most take it black for a pre-work out,’ says Dr Patel. ‘It also depends on if you rely on pre-work outs, as some can’t take anything before they exercise at all – so I wouldn’t advise to take up caffeine as a way to get better fitness sessions. 

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