The Effects of Drinking Coffee Before Running

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Some people drink coffee before runs and never have any issues with it, but others experience GI issues or heartburn if they drink it before a run. If you can tolerate it and actually need coffee to get you going in the morning, then it's safe to keep enjoying it before your runs.

Pros and Cons of Coffee for Runners

Pros

  • Improved Mental Alertness

  • Decreased Perception of Effort

  • May Boost Fat Utilization

  • May Increase Pace

Cons

  • Gastrointestinal Distress

  • May Cause headaches

  • May Cause Jitters

  • Increased Urination

Benefits

You may find that drinking a cup of coffee before a run or race has a positive effect. Caffeine is a preferred pre-workout supplement. In fact, one study found more than two-thirds of Olympic athletes use caffeine to increase their performance. Caffeine is easily accessible and available in many forms.

Caffeine has also been studied extensively with positive findings. Studies have shown that pre-run caffeine has been shown to enhance performance and endurance. This may happen in some athletes because caffeine is known to decrease the perception of effort. If you don't feel like you are working hard, you may be able to sustain the effort for a longer period of time.

Caffeine may also help you run faster. A small study found that caffeine ingestion helped well-trained recreational runners run faster during a 5K race. Race times only improved by about one percent, but most runners are willing to take any gains when it comes to finish time.

Research also shows that caffeine boosts your mental alertness, improves your mood, and boosts your desire to run hard. Of course, anyone that drinks coffee on a daily basis knows that a jolt of java in the morning helps to get your brain and body moving.

Drawbacks

Like any workout supplement, using caffeine has drawbacks.

Caffeine is a diuretic and increases both the frequency and urgency to urinate. For runners, this can be especially problematic if you run in an area where bathrooms are not readily available.

Additionally, you may experience other gastrointestinal issues when you drink coffee before running, especially if you add milk or other ingredients to your beverage. Caffeine has a laxative potential, meaning that in some people, it can cause diarrhea.

In people who are sensitive to caffeine, drinking coffee may cause headaches or jitters. These conditions may make it less comfortable to run.

Lastly, even though caffeine has been studied extensively, many of the studies are small and limited in scope. And not all of the findings are positive. In fact, one study found that caffeinated coffee provided no benefit when compared to decaf coffee in runners competing in an 800-meter run.

Many studies investigating the benefits of caffeine on running performance are small in scope and not all studies have been consistent in their findings. The bottom line is that caffeine may boost performance in some, but not all, runners.

Caffeine Timing

If you're a morning runner, it is likely that you'll grab a cup of coffee before lacing up your shoes to hit the road. But some runners also consume caffeine during and after their run for additional benefits.

Caffeine Before Running

Because of the many benefits that caffeine may provide during the run, caffeine is most commonly ingested before running. Different studies have recommended various amounts to consume.

In general, recommended caffeine doses range from three to seven milligrams of caffeine for every kilogram of body weight. Most running sources cite 5mg/kg as the recommended dose.

The best pre-race dose of caffeine for you may vary. Experiment with doses starting at 2-3mg per kilogram of body weight and increase if necessary. Doses higher than 7mg per kilogram of body weight are not recommended.

If you a 150-pound runner (about 68 kilograms of body weight) your recommended dose would be roughly 340 mg of caffeine. One cup of coffee contains about 95-100 milligrams of caffeine. So you'd have to drink just over three cups to get the full dose.

Most sources say that timing is not an issue—you can drink coffee an hour or more before the run and still enjoy the benefits of caffeine. And the effects of caffeine last for hours, so you don't have to try to drink it immediately before your run.

To find the best dose and timing for you, start at the lowest recommended amount and see how your body responds. And remember not to try anything new on race day. Experiment during training runs to find your sweet spot.

Caffeine During a Run

While some runners drink coffee before a race, others delay their caffeine intake until they're running so they can get a mid-race boost. You can easily consume caffeine on the run by ingesting caffeinated energy gel or chews (or other sports nutrition).

Check the nutrition facts on the packaging of your sports nutrition to see which ones contain caffeine. Many products contain multiple supplements such as amino acids, sodium, and some source of quick energy, such as fructose.

The caffiene in energy gels is absorbed into the body very quickly, so you can use a caffeinated sports gel during a race without worrying about having to wait very long for its effects.

Caffeine After Running

While it might seem counterintuitive to consume coffee (or any caffeinated beverage) after a race, drinking coffee after a run may provide benefits.

One study showed that consuming caffeine along with carbohydrates after exhaustive exercise improved muscle recovery.

Additionally, the mental alertness benefits of coffee may have benefits for runners who train or race in the morning and then need to focus or perform on the job later in the day.

Lastly, there is some evidence that drinking coffee may improve fat utilization in the body. For runners who are trying to slim down, this benefit may be helpful.

Myths About Coffee and Running

The most common myth about coffee and running is that consuming caffeine can replace smart training. While caffeine may enhance your performance in a race or decrease your perception of effort, it cannot substantially decrease your pace or make the run feel effortless.

Additionally, some runners feel that more caffeine is better. This is not always the case. Consuming too much caffeine on race day can cause shakiness and nervousness that may detract from the focus you need to perform.

While coffee (and other caffeinated beverages) may provide some benefits, it is not a substitute for smart training. If you haven't put in the miles before a big race, drinking coffee is not likely to make a big difference.

Also, consuming caffeine too often may be problematic. If you drink coffee in large amounts before every training run your body is likely to adapt to its effects. In that case, you are less likely to feel the benefits on race day when you need them.

Lastly, there are myths about coffee and dehydration. While caffeine does increase the need to urinate, it does not seem to increase the risk of dehydration. However, this does not eliminate the need for runners to hydrate before and after a run. It simply means that drinking coffee isn't likely to cause dehydration.

Coffee Calorie and Nutrition Tips

The way you consume coffee can have an impact on your body weight and on your running performance.

A single cup of black coffee provides almost zero calories and virtually no micronutrients except for a small amount of sodium (5mg) and potassium (116mg). However, what you add to your coffee can change the nutrition substantially.

If you add two tablespoons of cream to your coffee, you'll add over 100 calories and about 11 grams of saturated fat. If you spoon sugar into your coffee, you'll increase the calorie count by about 20 calories per spoonful.

When you consider the amount of coffee you need to consume to meet the recommended guidelines, the number of calories in a pre-race dose of coffee could add up.

If possible, consume coffee black before your run. Eliminating dairy will decrease your chances of stomach discomfort. And by reducing the fat and calorie content you also help to keep your calorie count and saturated fat intake lower.

A Word From Verywell

Don't ever experiment with coffee or caffeine before or during a race. You should first try it out during some of your long runs and hard workouts to make sure it doesn't make you too jittery or cause GI issues. You don't want to sabotage your race by taking too much caffeine.

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Additional Reading

  • Armstrong, L. E., Casa, D. J., Maresh, C. M., & Ganio, M. S. (2007). Caffeine, Fluid-Electrolyte Balance, Temperature Regulation, and Exercise-Heat Tolerance. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 135–140. doi:10.1097/jes.0b013e3180a02cc1

  • Del Coso, J, et al. "Prevalence of caffeine use in elite athletes following its removal from the World Anti-Doping Agency list of banned substances." Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2011 Aug ;36(4):555-61. doi: 10.1139/h11-052. Epub 2011 Aug 19.

  • Duncan, M. J., Smith, M., Cook, K., & James, R. S. (2012). The Acute Effect of a Caffeine-Containing Energy Drink on Mood State, Readiness to Invest Effort, and Resistance Exercise to Failure. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(10), 2858–2865. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e318241e124

  • Marques, A., Jesus, A., Giglio, B., Marini, A., Lobo, P., Mota, J., & Pimentel, G. (2018). Acute Caffeinated Coffee Consumption Does not Improve Time Trial Performance in an 800-m Run: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Crossover, Placebo-Controlled Study. Nutrients, 10(6), 657. doi:10.3390/nu10060657

  • O’Rourke, M. P., O’Brien, B. J., Knez, W. L., & Paton, C. D. (2008). Caffeine has a small effect on 5-km running performance of well-trained and recreational runners. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 11(2), 231–233. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2006.12.118

  • Pedersen, D. J., Lessard, S. J., Coffey, V. G., Churchley, E. G., Wootton, A. M., Ng, T., … Hawley, J. A. (2008). High rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis after exhaustive exercise when carbohydrate is coingested with caffeine. Journal of Applied Physiology, 105(1), 7–13. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01121.2007

  • Tabrizi, R., Saneei, P., Lankarani, K. B., Akbari, M., Kolahdooz, F., Esmaillzadeh, A., … Asemi, Z. (2018). The effects of caffeine intake on weight loss: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 1–9. doi:10.1080/10408398.2018.1507996

  • Tarnopolsky, M. A. (2008). Effect of caffeine on the neuromuscular system — potential as an ergogenic aid. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 33(6), 1284–1289. doi:10.1139/h08-121

  • WILCOX, A. R. (1982). The effects of caffeine and exercise on body weight, fat-pad weight, and fat-cell size. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 14(4), 317–321. doi:10.1249/00005768-198204000-00011

  • Duncan, MJ, et al. "The acute effect of a caffeine-containing energy drink on mood state, readiness to invest effort, and resistance exercise to failure." J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Oct ;26(10):2858-65.
  • Maharam, Lewis, M.D., et. al. "IMMDA's Health Recommendations for Runners and Walkers" March 20, 2010.