Q: Is it best to drink coffee before or after a morning workout?
A: I recommend drinking your java before a.m. exercise so you can take advantage of the shot of caffeine to optimize your workout.
Caffeine has powerful nootropic effects, meaning it manipulates neurotransmitters to alter how the brain functions. While we all think of caffeine as a stimulant, it doesn’t directly stimulate as much as it prevents or blocks the action of neurotransmitters that promote sedation and relaxation.
Your pre-workout caffeine-packed cup of coffee isn’t just going to give you the mental edge, though—it will also help you burn more fat. The exact mechanism in which caffeine works to enhance fat-burning has yet to be conclusively nailed down (as it probably works via several different mechanisms), but it primarily seems to work by increasing the breakdown and release of fat.
Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty.
What kind of coffee should I drink?
An easy way to adjust how much caffeine you consume is to change the type of coffee that you are drinking. Dark roasted coffee has less caffeine, and light roasted coffee has more. After a short night of sleep, you might want to opt for the New England or Half City roast (light roast), but most days you’ll do fine with the French roast (dark roast).
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How much caffeine is enough? How much is too much?
While research shows that caffeine is extremely safe to use—you’d need to drink 130 cans of Red Bull to get a fatal dose of caffeine—caffeine tolerance is very individualized. Just because I’ve seen studies safely use upwards of 600 milligrams (mg) of caffeine to test its effects on pain perception doesn’t mean that you could pop two NoDoz with your venti Pike’s Place before you work out. Too much caffeine prior to exercise may actually decrease performance, as it can make you feel nauseous and lightheaded. I’ve personally tested multiple different dosages of caffeine before workouts and found that 300mg is the most my body can tolerate before I start to feel nauseous.
So how much coffee should I drink?
When it comes to stimulants like caffeine, less is always better, and know your body. Those new to caffeine should start with around 100mg (a shot of Starbucks espresso has 75mg).
If you’re drinking coffee for the fat-burning effects of caffeine, studies show this seems to start around 200mg. Sticking with Starbucks coffee as our delivery mechanism for caffeine, this would equal a grande Americano (225mg caffeine) or slightly less than a tall regular brewed coffee (260mg caffeine).
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One downside to caffeine is that your body adapts to it overtime. Any serious coffee drinker or energy drink fiend will tell you that it progressively takes more and more caffeine for them to reap the benefits of alertness compared to what they used to need to get the same effect.
And a final piece to consider with caffeine levels in coffee is that it can be very variable. In a test of six different samples of Starbucks Breakfast Blend, the caffeine levels ranged from 259 to 564mg. This is a huge range.
But doesn’t caffeine dehydrate you?
No; this is a very common myth about caffeine. While caffeine is a diuretic (e.g. it causes increases in urination), studies looking at caffeine use in high-temperature exercise situations show that it does not lead to dehydration or subsequent decreases in performance.