Caffeine might as well be our third presidential candidate, as it seems everyone either loves or hates this often abused legal stimulant. Whatever your stance, it is true that coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages are fixtures in modern society. When it comes to working out, there are both advantages and disadvantages to incorporating caffeine into your pre-workout routine. Here are some of those points explored to make sure you know what you’re putting into your body right before you hit the gym.
During exercise, the body uses glycogen, a sugar that comes from food and is used to provide energy. As the glycogen stored up is used, the body starts to feel sluggish. Caffeine ensures that glycogen lasts longer because it convinces the body to use more fat as fuel, meaning you can workout for longer than you could without it. If your go-to workout is running, cycling, or cross-country skiing, adding caffeine to your pre-workout snack routine would be a good idea to not only elongate, but better the quality of your workout.
A Japanese study explored caffeine’s effect on circulation. Participants drank either a cup of caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee and afterwards, it was found that those who had the caffeinated cup experienced a 30% increase in blood flow over a 75 minute time frame. Muscles need oxygen, and with increased circulation, the muscles get a good supply - resulting in a better workout or pump.
Workouts are all about staying hydrated, and there is a lot of talk that caffeine causes dehydration. While this is true, it only takes effect at about 5-7 cups of coffee or approximately 350mg - 500mg of caffeine. Before that amount, caffeine doesn’t cause significant dehydration. If you are already committed to consuming caffeine before a workout, make sure you don’t surpass the amount above and you should be good to go!
A study done by the University of Illinois found that drinking two or three cups of coffee, or consuming in any capacity the equivalent amount of caffeine, would decrease perceived muscle pain during a half hour workout. This might allow you push yourself harder if you don’t feel the effects of your workout, especially during high intensity activities. It can also reduce soreness by up to 48 percent, as found by a University of Georgia study conducted in March 2007. This was a higher reduction of soreness compared to using Aleve or aspirin.
Prevention of Calorie Consumption
Some people use coffee to suppress their appetite. Thus, if you drink a caffeinated cup before your workout and then don’t consume the calories you need to sustain your workout, you might be sacrificing your exercise. If you are familiar with the way caffeine affects your appetite, proceed with caution. For those unsure, hold off on the caffeine to secure your best workout possible.
Caffeine, simply, is a drug, and with that comes addiction - if you continually make caffeine part of your workout and then want to stop, issues may ensue. Some people experience caffeine withdrawal if they regularly consume more than 200mg a day. Stopping consumption can lead to serious issues depending upon how strong the dependency truly was - symptoms include headaches, anxiety, depression, and cravings. To avoid these, simply just control your consumption - if you want to drink less of a caffeinated beverage, start slowly instead of quitting cold.
Caffeine is a stimulant, meaning that it can increase awareness and concentration in the brain. Thus, you may be tricked into thinking that your workout is better than it actually is. However, you are just more alert and focused, not necessarily exerting yourself more or truly improving your workout habits. While this is good for confidence, it isn’t providing you with your best workout ever.
There’s no definitive conclusion that can be made - while there are reasons to believe caffeine won’t harm your workout, there are also precautions that should be taken. Ultimately, hitting Starbucks or slipping some pre-workout in before you hit the gym comes with advantages and disadvantages. Our advice, make sure that your approach is measured and careful.