There’s more to the story behind coffee’s role as a pre-workout drink. While you might’ve thought the boost of energy it provides was simply the result of caffeine, recent research suggests that coffee’s benefits extend far beyond its caffeine content.
Coffee is one of the most popular performance aids used by athletes prior to competition (1-3). One of the main reasons is that coffee positively affects an athlete’s psychological response to exercise by decreasing the perception of how hard you’re working (4).
Now scientists have compared coffee and caffeine in a head-to-head study evaluating effects on strength and speed performance. In the first study of its kind, scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill compared the acute effects of coffee and caffeine consumption using 44 trained male subjects on bench press, leg press, and high-intensity cycling performance (5).
In this study, subjects either drank a beverage containing 300 milligrams of caffeine, or coffee with an equal amount of caffeine 30 minutes before the performance tests. Two days later subjects returned and consumed the other beverage prior to undergoing the tests. While all subjects exhibited increases in performance for both the bench press and leg press exercises, the researchers found that coffee improved leg press maximal strength to a greater extent versus caffeine alone.
The surprising finding that coffee provided better results compared to caffeine alone led the researchers to conclude that coffee could be superior for athletic performance.
In another just published study, researchers tested the hypothesis that coffee might provide advantages over caffeine alone (6). In this study, the researcher’s recruited nine resistance-trained males who completed five sessions of resistance-training (squats and bench presses) while consuming one of the following beverages prior to exercise: 1) a placebo, 2) caffeine alone, 3) regular coffee, or 4) decaffeinated coffee caffeine added to the same level as in regular coffee.
The trials were separated by at least two days to allow recovery and to ensure a complete caffeine “washout” period. (The washout period was based on the time it takes for the caffeine to lose its effect and with the majority of it having been excreted from the body).
The results of the study indicated that while the coffee and decaffeinated coffee with added caffeine significantly improved performance in squats, coffee alone demonstrated the greatest improvement in the bench press. The authors suggested that an explanation for these effects was unclear and would require further research. However, what was clear was the advantage coffee provided versus pure, synthetic caffeine alone.
But before you go off and prepare coffee using a whole bag of Isagenix Coffee prior to your workout, here are some tips on how best to use it:
- Drink your coffee about 40 minutes before your workout for best effect (7)
- Based upon the most current research, start with a large cup or two before training (5, 6)
- If you’re sensitive to coffee causing sleeplessness at night, limit its use to the mornings
- Coffee does not cause dehydration, so don’t worry about drinking large amounts of water to compensate for drinking coffee. A research review by the American College of Sports Medicine found that coffee and even caffeinated beverages neither dehydrates nor causes any electrolyte imbalances (8). In fact, coffee used before a workout is actually shown to have the same hydrating effects as drinking water (9)
- Carlsen MH, Halvorsen BL, Holte K, Bøhn SK, Dragland S, Sampson L, Willey C, Senoo H, Umezono Y, Sanada C, Barikmo I, Berhe N, Willett WC, Phillips KM, Jacobs DR Jr & Blomhoff R. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutr J. 2010 Jan 22; 9:3.
- Hodgson AB, Randell RK & Jeukendrup AE. The metabolic and performance effects of caffeine compared to coffee during endurance exercise. PLoS One. 2013; 8(4):e59561.
- Desbrow B & Leveritt M. Awareness and use of caffeine by athletes competing at the 2005 Ironman Triathlon World Championships. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Oct; 16(5):545-58.
- Demura S, Yamada T & Terasawa N. Effect of coffee ingestion on physiological responses and ratings of perceived exertion during submaximal endurance exercise. Percept Mot Skills. 2007 Dec; 105(3 Pt 2):1109-16.
- Trexler ET, Smith-Ryan AE, Roelofs EJ, Hirsch KR & Mock MG. Effects of coffee and caffeine anhydrous on strength and sprint performance. Eur J Sport Sci. 2015 Sep 22:1-9.
- Richardson DL & Clarke ND. Effect of Coffee and Caffeine Ingestion on Resistance Exercise Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Feb 12. [Epub ahead of print]
- Liguori A, Hughes JR & Grass JA. Absorption and subjective effects of caffeine from coffee, cola and capsules. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1997 Nov; 58(3):721-6.
- Grandjean AC, Reimers KJ, Bannick KE & Haven MC. The effect of caffeinated, non-caffeinated, caloric and non-caloric beverages on hydration. J Am Coll Nutr. 2000 Oct; 19(5):591-600.
- Killer SC, Blannin AK & Jeukendrup AE. No evidence of dehydration with moderate daily coffee intake: a counterbalanced cross-over study in a free-living population. PLoS One. 2014 Jan 9; 9(1):e84154.