The Effects of Drinking Coffee Before Running

Healthy Lifestyle Young Woman Running in New York City
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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.

Benefits of Caffeine for Runners

You may find that drinking a cup of coffee before a run or race has a positive effect. Pre-run caffeine has been shown to enhance performance and endurance. One study found more than two-thirds of Olympic athletes use caffeine to increase their performance. Research also shows that caffeine boosts your mental alertness, improves your mood, and boosts your desire to run hard.

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. When's the best time to take caffeine during a race? It's 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.

What to Watch Out For 

If you're doing a race of 10K or longer, don't consume more than 200 mg of caffeine (about 2 cups of coffee). Some experts believe too much caffeine may increase risk of cardiac events while running.

It's also important to keep in mind that coffee is a mild diuretic (makes you have to urinate), so it's not the same as hydrating with plain water. If you want a pre-run cup of coffee, drink it early enough that you'll have time to use the bathroom so you can avoid stopping to urinate during your run. The effects of caffeine last for hours, so you don't have to try to drink it immediately before your run.

Nothing New on Race Day

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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Article Sources
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  • 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.