A young woman going for a walk outdoors in workout gear while drinking coffee before a workout.

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Should You Drink Coffee Before a Workout?

Experts break down the pros and cons of a pre-sweat cup of joe.

By Ayren Jackson-CannadyNovember 9, 2023


For roughly 66 percent of Americans, starting the day without a cup of coffee is unfathomable. The rich aroma (so good!) and caffeine jolt (yes, please!) have become an integral part of countless morning rituals. But have you ever considered incorporating coffee into your pre-workout routine?

Drinking coffee before a workout can be a valuable ally in your fitness journey, but it's not a one-size-fits-all approach. We sat down with a couple of experts—and our cups of joe—to explore the benefits of drinking coffee before workouts, how much to consume, when to sip, and the potential risks associated with caffeine before exercise.

Can You Drink Coffee Before a Workout?

Yes, you can absolutely drink coffee before a workout. Caffeine, which is naturally found in coffee, can give exercise performance a boost by increasing alertness, perceived energy levels, and concentration. 

However, the ideal amount of pre-workout coffee can vary from person to person, so it's important to be mindful of your caffeine sensitivity and digestive comfort, says Ellen Landes, RDN, CPT, a registered dietician based in St. Charles, Illinois, and owner of The Runner's Dietitian.

Benefits of Drinking Coffee Before Your Workout

Coffee can be more than just a morning pick-me-up. “If you want to get more energy and boost your cardio or strength workout, coffee can be a great ergogenic aid,” says Peloton instructor Kristin McGee

Here are some of the potential benefits you can receive from your pre-workout pour-over:

Enhanced Alertness 

Caffeine is a natural stimulant that millions of us rely on to improve focus and alertness. Enjoying coffee before a workout, then, may translate to a better mind-muscle connection, allowing you to perform exercises with better form and efficiency. 

Boosted Feelings of Energy

The caffeine in coffee stimulates the release of adrenaline in your body. This "fight-or-flight" hormone can provide you with an extra boost for intense workouts. 

But coffee before a workout is “not a magic bullet,” Landes reminds us. “Contrary to popular belief, it won’t give you actual energy, which can only come from food.” Prioritize fueling your body with food first, and then focus on that perfect pre-workout cup of joe.

Improved Physical Performance

“The caffeine in coffee lowers your feeling of exertion, which can make workouts feel easier and thus, boost your performance and help progress you in your overall fitness goals,” Landes explains. Indeed, there’s research to back this up: A 2018 review of multiple studies revealed that caffeine offers a noticeable enhancement in endurance when consumed at moderate doses.

Possible Pain Reduction

Caffeine has been shown to reduce the perception of pain, which may allow you to push through tough workouts with less discomfort. Researchers say the secret sauce comes from its interaction with certain receptors in your body called adenosines. Caffeine may stop these receptors from sending pain signals to your brain.

A woman in her kitchen drinking coffee before a workout.

Dougal Waters / DigitalVision via Getty Images

How Much Coffee Should You Drink Before Exercise?

The ideal amount of coffee before a workout can vary from person to person. However, the general recommendation is to consume between 3–6 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight about 60 minutes before you exercise. For example, if you weigh 70 kilograms (154 pounds), you could aim for 210–420 milligrams of caffeine. This equates to roughly 2–4 cups of brewed coffee, as one 8-ounce cup contains about 95 milligrams of caffeine

“I love my two cups of coffee each morning and I definitely feel more energized when I'm working out,” Kristin shares. “But as with everything, listen to your body and figure out what works best for you.”

On that note, Landes says that some may notice the benefits of caffeine at lower doses, so don’t feel like you need to guzzle down a bunch of coffee before working out. And if you're a newbie to caffeine, it's a good idea to start with a smaller amount and see how your body responds before adding more. If you experience jitters, a rapid heartbeat, or stomach issues, Landes suggests dialing it back. “Some people are just more sensitive to it than others, and consuming it in hopes of better performance won’t be worth the negative side effects,” she says.

On the other hand, you might wake up and feel like you could drink an entire carafe (or two). But when it comes to fueling up for your fitness routine with coffee, Landes says there’s no benefit of drinking more than the aforementioned guideline of 3–6 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight.

Does It Matter What Type of Coffee You Drink?

How you take your coffee—hot or iced, sweetened or plain, with plant milk or whole milk—is usually inconsequential, as caffeine is the key player here. “That being said, what you consume with your caffeine (i.e. half and half or other ingredients) may not sit well in your stomach during a workout, so experiment with what works for you,” Landes says.

The blend of coffee you enjoy, however, shouldn’t have too much of an impact on your workout. But remember, “Decaffeinated won't give you the boost you're looking for, since it's the caffeine in the coffee that enhances performance,” Kristin says.

When to Drink Pre-Workout Coffee

Timing is everything when it comes to coffee before a workout. “The effects of caffeine take about an hour to kick in, so ideally, you’d consume [your coffee] about an hour before your workout, or you might consume it closer to your workout to feel the effects part-way through for an extra boost,” Landes says.

That said, caffeine can remain in your system for several hours after you've had it. This means that if you exercise later in the day and have coffee before working out, it could affect your ability to sleep that night. (More on that below.)

Another thing to consider is whether to drink your coffee alongside a meal or snack or not. “Personally, I don’t like to do fasted workouts; I always need a little something in my stomach,” Kristin says. Landes suggests pairing your pre-workout coffee with a carb-rich snack (like a banana or oatmeal) to “give your body plenty of fuel to perform alongside the caffeine benefit.”

Potential Risks of Caffeine Before a Workout

While coffee can be a great pre-workout boost for some, it's important to be mindful of its potential drawbacks, too. It's important to find the right balance and know your body's caffeine tolerance to reap the benefits without experiencing these downsides:

Digestive Issues 

Coffee can stimulate your digestive system, which might lead to gastrointestinal discomfort during exercise. To avoid this, experiment with pre-workout coffee consumption timing to find what works best for your stomach. “Coffee has been known to help get things moving, so if you're going on a long run, make sure you've emptied your bowels first or know of a restroom you can use,” Kristin suggests.

Sleep Disturbances 

Late-afternoon or evening workouts combined with pre-workout caffeine can lead to sleep disturbances. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that consuming caffeine up to six hours before bed can significantly affect your Zzzs. If your workouts are close to bedtime, consider reducing your caffeine intake.

Caffeine Sensitivity 

Most healthy adults can safely tolerate a daily dose of caffeine (up to 400 milligrams), according to the Mayo Clinic. However, some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others and may experience side effects such as nervousness, anxiety, or an increased heart rate. What's more, some folks might have unique caffeine restrictions—for instance, experts recommend that pregnant people stick to 200 milligrams of caffeine a day or less. 

"Proceed with caution and get to know what works for you," Kristin says. Landes agrees, suggesting that you start with lower doses if you're unsure about your caffeine tolerance. As always, don't hesitate to chat with your healthcare practitioner about what's best for you.

The Takeaway

When consumed in moderation—and with attention to your personal tolerance levels—coffee before a workout can provide that extra edge to your sweat sesh that you might be looking for. While everyone tolerates caffeine differently, the general recommendation is to have between 3–6 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight about an hour before you work out. Pre-workout coffee may enhance your alertness and performance, but it could also cause digestive issues or sleep disturbances. Listen to your body and its reaction to coffee before a workout, and don’t hesitate to chat with your doctor or a registered dietician for guidance.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


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