Coffee is the start of a good day for millions of Americans. Others prefer to get in a morning run. What if you do both – is it okay to drink coffee before your run?
It is okay to drink coffee before a run as long as you’re consuming it in moderation. Coffee is a diuretic and can lead to dehydration and an interruption of your run. When consumed properly, it can improve coordination and concentration, and can improve your endurance. If you prefer to avoid coffee, consider substituting another form of caffeine.
Read on to learn about how coffee affects runners, the general benefits of caffeine, practical recommendations for pre-run coffee consumption, and plausible alternatives for our non-coffee drinkers!
Is it bad to drink coffee before running?
Millions of people – myself included – love to drink a good ol’ cup of joe every morning. It’s a ritual that gets the ball rolling for the day. Coffee has been shown to provide many positive benefits when consumed such as increased focus and energy levels. But is it okay to drink before going on another daily ritual, the morning run?
It is not bad to drink coffee before going for a run. In fact, it is the opposite. Coffee provides many performance benefits like improved endurance to runners that are hard to achieve through sources other than coffee. In addition to this, coffee is a naturally occurring substance that has fewer adverse effects than other common pre-run substances.
The origin of coffee stems from farm workers around the equator! The farmers discovered that eating the beans gave them more energy and increased the amount of work they could get done in a day.
Eventually, humans figured out that we could roast the beans and diffuse them into water to create coffee!
A pre-run coffee can benefit runners because it:
- Improves endurance – Coffee allows the body to utilize fatty acids instead of glycogen, runners then have a sustainable energy source to keep them chugging along at high speeds.
- Enhances concentration – Caffeine can improve focus and concentration, which is why so many people drink it first thing in the morning!
- Increases performance – Coffee has been shown to improve performance by nearly 2% when consumed 1 hour before a run.
Coffee has its cons, however. While it doesn’t negatively affect heart rate, it can cause some stomach problems and potentially dehydrate runners.
Coffee is a diuretic, meaning it makes you urinate. This can be easily dealt with by drinking water, but it’s a hassle to stop mid-run and use the restroom.
To combat coffee’s “restroom” effects, drink a small cup of coffee about an hour before running. This gives you time to use the restroom and allows for peak caffeine utilization.
Overall, coffee is a great pre-workout drink with benefits that outweigh the costs. Plan ahead and have your cup of coffee before running; you’ll be happier and more energized!
How does coffee affect running?
Looking for a leg up on the competition? Coffee can provide benefits to runners, but they must be careful not to consume coffee before important runs without testing coffee consumption first.
Coffee increases running performance through improved endurance and increased coordination and concentration, but can cause stomach problems for some individuals. The best practice for consuming coffee before running is to test it in small quantities to see if it upsets your stomach or not.
Coffee, generally speaking, improves running performance. Coffee contains caffeine, a performance-enhancing substance that gives runners energy to push themselves.
By drinking coffee, runners can increase their power and performance, as proved in a caffeine study performed on cyclists – assuming coffee doesn’t wreak havoc on your stomach.
Oftentimes, coffee can cause stomach problems. It’s scientifically proven to increase the speed of your digestive system, meaning you may have to go Number 2 in the middle of your run. Less than optimal to say the least.
Add cream into the mix and the problem is only exasperated. Dairy can be rough on the stomachs of many Americans. Stick to black coffee if you can tolerate the taste.
Overall, coffee makes you a faster, more-energized runner; just make sure to use the restroom before your run!
Does caffeine make you run faster?
Caffeine’s original use, thousands of years ago, was to increase the productivity and energy levels of farmers. Farmers perform strenuous labor that requires energy as running does. Can caffeine make you run faster?
Consuming caffeine prior to running is proven to make you run faster. Through increased energy levels and physiological effects such as the release of fatty acids into the bloodstream, runners who digest caffeine prior to running have been found to run up to 5% faster.
Research published in 2013 compared the performance of caffeinated endurance athletes to endurance athletes who had no caffeine in their system at all. The results were conclusive: when examining the athletes with caffeine versus the control group (who received a placebo), the athletes with caffeine ran 5% faster!
The caffeinated athletes’ increased performance may be attributed to a special effect that caffeine has on the body. By consuming caffeine, fatty acids are released into the bloodstream as an available energy source.
The body can then utilize the fatty acids rather than depleting glycogen stores, or immediate energy. This leads to faster performance over a longer period of time!
Does caffeine affect your heart rate during a run?
When resting, caffeine has been found to raise your heart rate. What about during a run?
There are no significant increases in heart rate during a run resulting from caffeine consumption.
Consumption of caffeine raises resting heart rates and resting blood pressure. While consuming caffeine has been found to raise blood pressure during runs, the margin is no different from how much blood pressure increases when resting.
That is to say, the blood pressure is raised before running, and then running accentuates that increased blood pressure. Heart rate, however, is different.
When testing cyclists’ use of caffeine and its effect on their heart rate, researchers found that heart rate is generally unaffected.
While the resting heart rate may rise, the heart rate during exercise remains the same. For example, a runner who averages a heart rate of 170bpm will still average 170bpm after caffeine consumption.
How long after coffee should you wait to run?
If you opt to drink coffee before a run for its undeniable energy boost, you may want to be intentional about when you drink it to maximize the benefits and minimize potential restroom issues.
A practical recommendation for runners is to consume two cups of coffee one hour prior to running. The effects of caffeine peak one hour after consumption; this means you will feel the most energized after one hour. An hour is also a sufficient amount of time to use the restroom before you go run.
Caffeine is a quickly released stimulant; its effects can be felt in as little as 10 or 15 minutes! However, even though you may be feeling antsy, it’s wise to wait longer before you run.
Waiting an hour is also conducive to avoiding restroom issues when running. Coffee is a diuretic, meaning it speeds up your digestive system and increases your urinary output.
So, to utilize maximum energy levels and avoid troubles when running, drink coffee about an hour before you plan to go out for a run. You’ll feel great!
Should you limit the amount of coffee you drink before you exercise?
It’s all too easy to overconsume coffee and suffer from the jitters; it’s also possible to underdose and reap no benefits. Where’s the sweet spot?
Runners should aim to consume two cups of coffee prior to going for a run. Anything over that may result in restroom issues, and the increase in caffeine begins to fall subject to diminishing returns. That is, the caffeine increase no longer provides a great increase in benefits.
While the amount of coffee varies for individuals, consuming about two cups of coffee is optimal for balancing performance and minimizing issues.
Optimal amounts of caffeine are determined by milligrams per kilogram of body weight, so heavier individuals may need more, and lighter individuals may be better off drinking less.
The goal is to consume 3 to 6 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. Taking into consideration the caffeine content in coffee, two cups of coffee provides a 70 kg runner (about 156 lb) with 3 milligrams per kilo.
If you want to consume more to be on the upper end of the spectrum, proceed with caution. Drinking too much coffee can lead to dehydration and tummy issues during a run.
Alternatives to coffee for runners
I know not everyone loves their coffee as much as I do. For some, the bitter taste of “bean water” is anything but pleasant, especially when drunk black.
Fear not if coffee isn’t your drink of choice – there are plenty of great pre-run energy sources outside of drinking coffee. In fact, some might be better than coffee!
Here are some great alternatives to consider if you opt for something other than coffee:
- Energy drinks
- Preworkout supplements
- Caffeine pills
Caffeine comes in various shapes and sizes. Find what works best for you and experiment until you find the performance enhancement you desire!
Need something more mellow than a strong cup of coffee? Tea may be the answer.
Tea is a great alternative to coffee to achieve a small caffeine boost prior to running. Tea also has helpful antioxidants, but its caffeine content per ounce is much lower than that of coffee.
Like coffee, tea has been proven to promote fat utilization for energy instead of glycogen. As in coffee, this leads to increased energy over a longer period because your body can store a multitude of fat cells.
Tea has other health benefits outside of providing long-lasting energy. Due to its antioxidants, tea has been also proven to reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Unfortunately, coffee cannot provide these same antioxidants. However, coffee has the upper hand in caffeine per ounce of liquid. Tea has about half the amount of caffeine as coffee. In an 8-ounce cup, coffee has 96mg of caffeine and black tea has 47mg.
This exposes tea’s potential downside: you have to drink more of it to achieve the same energy boost. Unfortunately, drinking more means having to use the restroom more.
Decide what works for you but keep in mind the potential complications of drinking high volumes of liquid prior to running.
Energy drinks certainly pack a punch, but they come with a price. Numerous reports make claims directly correlating heart and stomach issues to energy drink consumption.
Energy drinks are high in caffeine and provide the necessary electrolytes for a long workout. However, energy drink consumption is linked to heart problems as well as stomach problems, so the costs may outweigh the benefits.
Energy drinks do their job: they give you energy. But at what cost?
While energy drinks have more caffeine than coffee (200mg in a 12-ounce can) and electrolytes to support runners through long, grueling workouts, the drinks are linked to long-term health issues.
Ask yourself: is a temporary energy boost worth a lifetime of heart problems? Energy drinks are linked to causing abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and sudden cardiac arrest.
Of course, if used in moderation, the risk is lower but still prevalent. Avoid energy drinks if possible and go for coffee or tea to boost your energy levels pre-run.
For a quick and easy boost, try taking pre workout supplements consisting of caffeinated powder mixed with water for consumption.
Preworkout supplements provide a quick energy boost and increased blood flow, improving overall performance. However, pre-workouts are very processed and should be carefully researched before consumption.
The average scoop of pre-workout has 150 to 300 milligrams of caffeine; that’s more than that of coffee considering its dry form. It’s easy to consume and often tasty for those with a sweet tooth.
Unfortunately, this is also the downfall of pre-workouts. Preworkout supplements are not typically regulated by a government agency, so companies are free to use whatever ingredients they see fit.
Many times, these ingredients are simple sugars or artificial sweeteners, which can spike blood sugar levels and lead to intestinal discomfort.
When choosing to take preworkout, consume it in moderation as it is very caffeine-dense. Find a preworkout with high-quality ingredients to maximize benefits and minimize the risk of health issues.
Perhaps the most controversial way to up caffeine intake is through pills. They are easy to take and provide instant energy boosts, but caffeine pills can be a slippery slope.
Caffeine pills are a formidable alternative to coffee considering their ease of consumption. Caffeine pills are dangerous for this same reason; it is easy to swallow pills and potentially overdo caffeine consumption. Be cautious when consuming and limit caffeine intake to the recommended daily limit.
The recommended daily limit of caffeine is 400mg, set by the FDA. This is a mere 2 caffeine pills, as 1 pill contains 200mg of caffeine.
Compared to coffee, this is a lot of caffeine. Even when compared to energy drinks or preworkout supplements, caffeine pills could very well be the most dangerous as a result of their high caffeine content.
However, caffeine pills are preferable in that they don’t contain loads of added ingredients like energy drinks and preworkout supplements.
Caffeine pills may be a good choice if you don’t prefer the taste of coffee or any of its other alternatives. Be cautious to limit the number of caffeine pills you take. Any more than 2 pills exceed the daily caffeine limit and can contribute to adverse health effects.
- About the Author
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Joshua Bartlett is a professional amateur when it comes to running – basically, he takes his mediocre running ability very seriously.
As the Editor-in-Chief at Saltmarsh Running, it is his job to make sure that readers get only highly-researched and comprehensive questions to all of their running questions.