Is Coffee the Next Pre-workout?

As we approach the New Year, there is no doubt that many of us will be hitting the gym to shed a few pounds. Along with working out comes all of the exercise accouterments: sweatbands, squeezy water bottles, leg warmers, and of course, supplements. One of the most popular supplements in the gym is pre-workout, a chemical blend of who-knows-what, designed to get the most out of you in the gym.

What is Pre-workout?

Popular pre-workouts come with names like C4, Maniac, and Pump Fuel. They are ingredient blends designed to stimulate the body and push you in your workout for the low price of $20-50 per tub.

The supplement companies would likely never admit it, but the primary ingredient in almost all pre-workout mixes is caffeine. The energy and jittery feeling these mixes provide are wholly dependent on a chemical that’s readily available in a variety of drinks, but especially in coffee.

To be fair, many pre-workouts may boast other energizing ingredients, but these ingredients are often suspect. Some, like B vitamins, are mostly useless. They are generally readily available in our diet, and many commercial mixes provide forms of vitamins that are not easily bioavailable, meaning they are mostly excreted from the body in urine.

Other pre-workout blends may have genuine stimulants, but the stimulants are essentially amphetamines comparable to methamphetamine or ecstasy. We like the gym, but we’re not ready to fail a drug test for a small pump.

Why Coffee Instead?

Our preference is to keep things simple with a cup of coffee. We know exactly what goes into our pre-workout (our ingredient list: water, coffee.), and we know it won’t break our bank account. Even better, coffee is delicious! The taste of artificial flavoring and non-sugar sweetener in many pre-workouts isn’t. While plain black coffee is as simple as it gets, making additions to suit your needs is simple.

Adding cream and sugar adds calories that will help you stay energized throughout your workout. Alternatively, we occasionally add cold brew to our favorite smoothie or shake to make a high-power pre-workout snack. If you’re trying to cut calories, black coffee is guilt-free, as it contains zero calories. The benefit of keeping it simple with coffee means we can add or subtract a variety of ingredients and snacks to make our workout as effective as possible.

How Do I Use Coffee as Pre-workout?

The most important thing to consider is timing. Because caffeine is the active ingredient we’re harnessing, we should plan to work out when our caffeine will be most effective, about 30-45 minutes after finishing our coffee.

Depending on personal preference, you may choose to drink your coffee and begin your workout immediately, saving the caffeine’s effects for when you’re already worn out part-way through your workout. Others may prefer to drink their coffee and then let the caffeine jitters and restlessness motivate them to get active. Whatever your preference, know that caffeine will be most active in the body approximately 45 minutes after ingestion, tapering down slowly over the next several hours.

Is There a Limit?

While caffeine is the most popular stimulant across the world, that does not mean it is without adverse effects. Caffeine can be uncomfortable or even harmful in large enough quantities. While coffee isn’t as highly caffeinated as some pre-workout blends, it still contains enough caffeine that we should be careful.

Doctors believe that approximately 400 milligrams of caffeine are the safe limit for most adults. A single 8-oz. cup of coffee contains about 100 milligrams of caffeine. If you plan on using coffee as a pre-workout, be mindful of the quantity you consume, especially if you begin to drastically increase your consumption suddenly. Too much caffeine can cause you to lose sleep at night, which will affect your ability to recover adequately from your workout during the day.

What’s the Best Coffee Pre-workout

In short? The one you like! While some coffees, such as blonde roasts, feature slightly higher caffeine content than others, the difference between most is negligible. Some companies offer ultra-high caffeine blends, but they are often supplementing regular coffee beans with caffeine extracts.

The best coffee for you to drink before a workout is the one you enjoy making and drinking. We rarely have the energy between work and our workout to brew a fresh pot, so we routinely use instant coffee options, such as our teabag-style brew bags. They provide coffeehouse quality in just a few minutes, no coffee pot or grinder required. You can make it at home while getting ready for the gym, as it only takes minutes to brew a portion perfect for one serving.

In summer, we frequently switch to our cold brew coffee packs, which we make overnight in the fridge. By the time we get home from work, we have a pitcher of cold brew (which naturally has a high caffeine content) to get us refreshed and ready to hit the weight room.