Here's What Happens When You Drink Coffee Before A Workout

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant

Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

woman sitting in kitchen with her boyfriend, having tasty healthy breakfast, drinking coffee and smiling cheerfully

If you're the kind of person who works out in the morning following your morning cup of Joe, you may have wondered, is the coffee helping or hurting your workout?

Well, coffee lovers, rejoice—it can do a lot more than just help you wake up. Evidence shows drinking coffee before a workout can not only enhance your physical performance but can even help you burn more fat.

So we dug into the research to find out why and how that happens, as well as when to drink it to maximize your workout.

The power's in the caffeine.

As you may or may not have guessed, the caffeine is the secret ingredient in coffee that gives athletic performance a boost. Makes sense, with caffeine supplements in plenty of pre-workout powders.

One umbrella review of caffeine's effects on exercise recently summarized a bunch of findings from a variety of research. Through the data, which looked at over 4,800 people across 300 studies, researchers found improvements ranged from 2 to 16% after drinking caffeine.

The largest improvements were mainly seen in people who were strongly affected by caffeine, with the average improvements falling somewhere between 2 and 6%. It doesn't sound like much, until you remember Michael Phelps won his seventh gold medal with just a hundredth of a second to spare.

And not only does it boost performance, but other research suggests caffeine can help the body burn fat, too.


How does it work?

Caffeine works within our bodies in a lot of ways, but one of the main reasons we all grab a cup in the morning is its effect on sleepiness. The chemical adenosine is responsible for making us feel tired, but when we consume caffeine, it fights for a spot in our brain's receptors, beating out adenosine.

This results in feeling less fatigued, in addition to stimulated brain activity. It even tricks us into feeling like we're not exerting ourselves as much as we would otherwise.

And even if you're a heavy coffee drinker, research says that doesn't change the positive effects caffeine has on athletics.

So, when should you drink it?

According to U.S. News, 4.5 to 6 milligrams of caffeine per kilo of your body weight should be enough to see some athletic performance enhancement. For someone around 140 pounds, that's one 20-ounce to two 16-ounce cups of coffee.

Just make sure you give yourself time to digest before hitting the gym. As you can imagine, hopping on the treadmill or attempting yoga after chugging a grande blonde roast could have disastrous effects. So give yourself around an hour before working out, for the aforementioned reason and because most studies also use a 60-minute window for looking at the caffeine-workout connection.

For more pre-workout inspiration, check out our guide on what to eat to build your own pre-workout supplement, plus one tip to make your morning cup a little bit healthier.

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