A healthy serving of the dark stuff before working out has myriad benefits.
If you’re torn between making your Venti-red-eye-coffee run before the gym or after, opt for the former: Turns out that caffeine boost really can, well, boost your body’s ability to get the most out of an exercise session.
“Coffee mimics the effect of exercise and boosts fat burning during a workout,” says Ori Hofmekler, founder of Defense Nutrition and author of The Warrior Diet. Indeed, a recent study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition found that athletes who consumed 4.5 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight before exercise burned about 15 percent more calories for three hours post-exercise than those who ingested a placebo. For a 185-pound man, that comes out to about 378 mg of caffeine—roughly the amount in about 16 ounces of brewed coffee.
Coffee provides what Hofmekler calls “fast energy,” which is exactly what you need to get you out the door in the first place. Motivation to work out plus more fat-burning bang for your buck? That’s enough to sell us on a pre-leg day dose of caffeine—but, as it turns out, there are even more reasons why that jolt of java might be a good idea.
Less Pain, More Gain Coffee, like good jeans and painkillers, is fundamental. It might therefore come as no surprise to learn that a 2008 study, conducted at the University of Illinois, found that consuming the amount of caffeine found in two to three cups of joe one hour before a 30-minute, high-powered workout actually reduced muscle pain. Less pain means a greater ability to push yourself, leading to better gains.
Go With the Flow Not only does coffee get you moving, it also gets your blood flowing in the literal sense. A Japanese study from 2013 had participants drink five-ounce cups of either regular or decaf coffee, then tested blood flow (via the finger) to gauge the effect on small-blood-vessel function. Researchers found that the people who drank caffeinated coffee experienced a 30 percent increase in blood flow over a 75-minute period. When it comes to exercise, that’s a significant advantage, because better blood flow means more oxygen for your muscles—meaning, once again, an ability to get more out of your workout.
Save Your Strength Depressing but true: As we age, our muscles lose strength. Less depressing: Sports scientists at Coventry University found that caffeine consumption can help to protect muscles from deteriorating—which means it could also help to prevent age-related injuries while exercising.
Power Play Feel the need for speed? Get your French Roast fix before you step on the treadmill or track: According to the results of a study published in Sports Medicine, caffeine has “been shown to increase speed and/or power output in simulated race conditions” and can be considered a “powerful ergogenic aid” (that is, it increases physical performance).
All solid reasons to stop for that cup of joe before you break a sweat. And, in case you’re wondering whether or not caffeine supplements would have the same effect, well . . . they might. But Sass says coffee is the safer (and possibly healthier) bet. “I think coffee is fairly predictable, meaning most people know how they feel after drinking coffee, whereas supplements that contain caffeine may be unpredictable or may be mixed with other stimulants or substances that affect your mental and/or physical performance,” she says. Plus, “coffee has also been shown to offer additional benefits, including a high dose of antioxidants.”