Coffee vs Pre Workout: Which Is Better?

by Matt Wilson
Last Updated: 03/05/2021
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Drinking coffee first thing in the morning, is a great way to start your day, but is it effective as a pre-workout supplement?  

Is the amount of caffeine in coffee high enough to affect your gym performance? Is drinking coffee before exercise the best way to go, or is there something else that you should consider? 

These and many more questions like it will be answered in the article that follows.

So, sit down, relax, have a drink, while we plunge into the world of pre-workout supplements, its benefits and downsides.

Pre-Workout vs Coffee

Downing a cup of coffee can give you that much needed energy boost before exercise.

Is choosing to drink coffee the only thing that you require for an increase in performance or is there something else that you could use to achieve better results?

I am talking about pre-workout supplements, people! Could drinking coffee before the gym be a valid substitute for these supplements?

Before answering that question, let’s take a look at what the pre-workout supplements actually do.

What Does Pre Workout Do?

The gist of it is, that it increases your energy output at the gym, while at the same time affecting and improving your general performance.

It is responsible for faster muscle and strength gains, recovery, and much more [1].

This means that pre-workouts contain a mixture of ingredients that can help you achieve better results at the gym, while at the same time protecting your body and making sure that you get as much benefit as you can, even on your rest days.

What Are the Pre-workout Ingredients?

There are a number of them, and they mostly depend on the brand of supplements that you are using.

Variety of ingredients can be used as a part of a supplement mix and each one of them has a different role in producing the desired outcome.

Some are good for endurance, some for strength and power, while others can help with recovery.

Commonly used ingredients include creatine monohydrate, beta-alanine, L-arginine, and (yes you’ve guessed it!), caffeine.

Most supplements contain a high amount of caffeine per serving (between 350-500 mg of caffeine). In contrast to that, the average amount of caffeine in a coffee cup is around 80 mg.

With that being said, the question now becomes, can caffeine replace and/or be as viable as all the other ingredients previously mentioned?

Can Coffee Be a Substitute for Pre-Workout?

Caffeine is responsible for increasing your alertness and your energy levels. It inhibits adenosine receptors in your brain, and as a result, decreases the feelings of pain and discomfort that you might feel [2].

Level of caffeine in coffee (around 5 cups of it) is equal to one serving of most of the pre-workouts on the market.

Drinking coffee before working out (30-45 minutes) can be beneficial for your overall performance at the gym.

Have in mind that choosing to drink coffee for pre-workout supplementation might not give you all the benefits that you would get from taking pre-workouts, but can be a great stimulant.

Also, coffee is a great energy booster that you’ve been looking for.

What Are the Benefits of Coffee?

Aside from the usual benefits that more or less all of us are aware of (cognitive improvements, being able to get dressed in the morning), coffee also has a lot of health benefits.

One of the things that coffee helps with is boosting your metabolic rate and increasing the amount of fat your body burns (between 10-30 percent) [3].

Caffeine increases the levels of epinephrine in your system. Epinephrine or adrenaline is a “fight or flight” hormone that can drastically improve your physical strength [4].

Studies have also shown that coffee consumption can decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes [5], dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

Coffee is also one of the greatest natural sources of antioxidants.

Coffee tastes great! (this is not related to any specific health benefit per se, but if you are a coffee addict like myself you’ll appreciate me mentioning it) 

Are There Side Effects of Coffee?

Well, yes, and I am going to “gas” that we’ve all experienced a couple of them in some shape or form.

Avid coffee drinkers, like myself, can spend all day talking about the benefits of drinking it, but for some reason, it’s side effects are not as widely talked about (I guess diarrhea is not a common subject amongst friends).

Side effects of coffee include (the previously mentioned) diarrhea, as well as insomnia, anxiousness, headaches, and irregular heartbeats [6].  

On the bright side, all of those side effects usually show up if you drink high amounts of coffee. 

So, if your intake of coffee is boiled down to (boiled? get it? because we are talking about coffee, and you boil water, ah, nevermind…) a couple of cups a day, you should be completely fine.

Is Caffeine the Best Pre-workout?

Calling caffeine the best pre-workout, could be a little bit of a stretch, especially if we have in mind all the other common ingredients used in those types of supplements (such as creatine, beta-alanine…).

Having a cup of coffee before your workout increases your energy and can make you perform better at the gym.

Nevertheless, if not the best, caffeine is certainly up there in the rankings (but, the chances are, it’s the best) 

Coffee or Pre-Workout: Which Should You Take?

As was mentioned above, most pre-workouts contain around 500 mg of caffeine per serving.

The only reasonable answer I could give you is not to take them both at the same time. Choose one and stick to it.

If you are not prone to doing research and finding out what pre-workout supplement is best suited for your body composition, just drink a cup of coffee before your workout. It’s one of those nothing to lose situations. 

The Bottom Line

You should not take your pre-workout with coffee, unless you want to experience the rush of anxiety, increased heart rate, insomnia, etc. 

That amount of power is not good for anybody (think of all the science fiction villains).

Coffee can be a replacement for pre-workouts, but to some degree. In any case, try to consume it in a reasonable hour and don’t take too much.

The question is, what is your goal? If you need a moderate boost in the gym, coffee is fine. If you want to increase the number of your reps substantially, you will probably need something stronger.

Maybe some sort of supplements? I don’t know. Feeling cute.


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