Should You Use Caffeine Before a Workout?

For most of my life, I, like many Americans have enjoyed a cup of coffee every day. My relationship with coffee began in grade school; yes, grade school. I can hear some of you bemoaning that coffee shouldn’t be ingested by kids. I will rebut by saying that in many cultures, including my Latin household, coffee diluted with a lot of milk is a breakfast staple for the entire family.

So I’ve always loved coffee. But it wasn’t until I started competing as a bodybuilder that I discovered the performance benefits of coffee, or to be more accurate, the caffeine in coffee.

I’ve always thought that caffeine before my workout is beneficial. My personal observation is that it helps me to stay more focused and more energized – and the studies bear this out. Let’s digress for a moment and look at what the caffeine in coffee does when you consume it.

Caffeine acts on your central nervous system. More specifically, caffeine acts on a compound in your brain which makes you sleepy called adenosine.  Your brain constantly makes adenosine while you’re awake. So, the longer you’re awake the more adenosine you accumulate. Caffeine is essentially an adenosine antagonist, binding to molecules of adenosine and lessening its sleep-inducing effects. So, when you drink coffee, the caffeine makes you less sleepy. Caffeine levels peaks right away after you drink coffee and then lingers in your system for hours. The half-life of caffeine is 4-6 hours, meaning that 4-6 hours after ingestion, about half of that caffeine is still in your system.

So Why is Caffeine Great Before Workouts?
1. Caffeine enhances performance and endurance, along with fighting fatigue.
2. Caffeine causes stronger muscular contractions, which is great when you’re lifting weights.
3. Caffeine increases your pain tolerance during exercise by reducing your perception of pain.
4. Caffeine helps you work out longer because it increases sugar and fatty acid levels in the blood, which can then be used for energy by your muscles.
5. Studies show that caffeine helps athletes exercise faster and with more force, over longer periods of time. (Caffeine is so effective at increasing exercise performance that until recently it was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.)
6. Caffeine increases exercise endurance by helping muscles use more blood sugar. (One study shows that caffeine increases the entry of sugar into muscles by as much as 26 percent. Of course, you have to have enough blood sugar for the caffeine to work with, so you would preferably consume your caffeine with a pre-workout carbohydrate drink or snack.)
7. Caffeine helps the brain fire into nerves to cause a greater percentage of muscle fibers to contract at the same time. This is one of the key benefits during weight training because if you can recruit more muscle fibers more efficiently you have greater contractions and hence greater results.

So how much caffeine should you use before your workout?
One study shows that a caffeine dose of 3 mg/kg body weight improves cycling performance in well-trained athletes. That comes to a little more than 300 mg for a 220 lb. athlete prior to or during a competition. As an example, you can get 300 mg of caffeine from a tall cup of Starbucks coffee.

Caffeine is thought to lose its performance-enhancing beneficial effects with repeated exposure, so athletes who want to gain maximum advantage from caffeine will want to cycle on and off during the year.

So, try adding a cup of coffee or Cafe Mocha Shake to your pre-workout routine next time you are going to work out and see if you don’t perform better. You may surprise yourself!


About the Author One of the world’s best-known bodybuilding legends, Lee Labrada holds 22 professional bodybuilding titles, including the IFBB Mr. Universe. Lee is an inductee of the IFBB Pro Bodybuilding Hall of Fame.

He has appeared on the covers of more than 100 bodybuilding and fitness magazines and has been featured on CNBC, FOX, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and ESPN as a fitness and nutrition expert. Lee is the best-selling author of The Lean Body Promise and co-founder of Lean Body Coaching, a results-driven one-on-one nutritional counseling program. For more information, visit www.leanbodycoaching.com

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