Does Coffee Before Running Help Performance?

By DeathWishCoffee — / Lifestyle

The Benefits of Coffee Before Running

Sipping on a cup of coffee immediately after rolling out of bed is a given. A way of life. A basic necessity. It’s the morning ritual that helps you survive the day and get all that sh*t done on your to-do list. And now there’s yet another reason to reach for a mug of your favorite brew. For serious runners—or those just trying to fend off the Grim Reaper in a not-so-serious way—there’s evidence to support that drinking that strong coffee as part of your morning routine is both a tasty—and performance-enhancing—idea.  

So let’s start with a few common myths about drinking coffee before running 

A black and red Death Wish Coffee mug on a countertop.

Myth: If you drink caffeinated coffee, you can slack on training. 

That’s just not true. Yes, coffee before running can enhance performance in a race and/or decrease your perception of effort, but it doesn’t have the ability to alter your pace or make you feel like the run is easy and effortless. You still have to put in the miles before a big race and train the right way. 

Myth: Coffee increases the risk of dehydration. 

Wrong. Studies have found that drinking up to about five cups of coffee really doesn’t affect hydration at all. You will definitely need to hit the can more often if nature calls, but coffee doesn’t leave runners feeling dehydrated. Now if coffee tends to get your system “moving” (which causes water loss), then you might want to add a fluid that ups your electrolyte count before heading out—or wear a diaper. Oh, and—runners still should hydrate properly with other liquids before and after a run. 

Myth: More coffee is better than less coffee before running.  

That’s not true either. Too much caffeine may not be a good thing. You can overload on the coffee—but be ready for the possibility of some jitters, dizziness, nervousness, lack of sleep and/or focus or stomach upset. So listen to your body. FYI—you can skip many of these side effects by drinking your coffee after a good breakfast on run days. 

Here’s the truth (myths be gone). Running on coffee (and exercising in general) offers many benefits that can actually improve  performance. And don’t forget—coffee generally benefits your overall health too. 

A female wearing workout leggings and a sports bra sitting on a medicine ball at the gym.

1. Coffee Improves Running Performance 

Studies have shown that for runners, drinking coffee before a workout (or physical fitness of any kind) helps boost performance—both in high intensity (sprinters) and endurance athletes. You can go farther and faster with coffee vs. without coffee. And even better—research suggests the “coffee effect” is true for both trained and untrained runners (score!) 

Since caffeine is the most widely consumed natural stimulant in the world, it speeds up signals that go from our brains to our bodies. Caffeine also absorbs very quickly (as soon as it enters your mouth even). It binds itself to nerve receptors in our brains and takes the place of the chemical that makes us feel like we want to sleep. As a result, that gives us a boost of adrenaline and pumps us up! Our hearts beat faster, airways open up, blood flows to muscles, and our livers release sugar into our bloodstream. Coffee also creates endorphins and other chemicals that reduce pain perception and the rate of exertion (aka effort) during exercise, while also enhancing force and power in the muscles.  

So really, a single, big cup of coffee is enough to get you ready for that run—but make it black—remember it’s death before decaf! And stay away from adding dairy (fat and calorie content).  It’s important to note though, that good training—and good nutrition—every day are key to the best performance. Don’t just grab a cup of coffee and expect to win the New York City marathon. Come on, man. 

2. Time Your Coffee Right.

There is an element of timing to drinking coffee before a workout. Drink your cup of joe (at least 2-4 cups brewed coffee for a 150-pound athlete) anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour ahead of your run. The caffeine benefits (and effects) can last for 3-5 hours. For example, if you’re going for a run first thing in the morning, start sipping on that coffee the minute you roll your overachieving a** out of bed. You may also perceive more effects if you go without your coffee for several days before the run. But who can live without coffee that long? The research isn’t strong enough to make that sacrifice. 

Considering the average U.S. adult consumes around 200 milligrams of coffee per day already, coffee consumption before exercise is likely close to what people are already drinking. Obviously, strength of coffee and quantity of coffee is always personal preference. Adjust that (and the timing) based on your own experience. But there’s no proven benefit to overdoing it. And it’s also a good idea to add a pre-run snack—like a banana or some peanut butter—with the coffee. 

3. Coffee Gives Your Brain a Boost. 

Coffee is great for your brain while you run too! Consuming coffee provides a temporary boost in memory and prevents plaque buildup responsible for the cognitive decline found in Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Also, research has found that coffee drinking lowers rates of depression and controls our moods. Drinking coffee can make us happy! Note: In addition to the brain boost, coffee also contains helpful chemicals and enzymes that offer benefits in general. Antioxidants in coffee curb chronic diseases like arthritis and forms of cancer. Coffee has also been linked to healthy livers. 

4. Coffee Helps Post-Exercise Recovery, Too. 

Although consuming a cup of your favorite brew might not sound super appealing as you wipe the sweat off your brow and catch your breath after finishing a run, drinking coffee after running actually provides benefits too.  A study suggests that caffeine can lower inflammation and help you actually recover faster. Eating some carbohydrates along with the coffee also improves muscle recovery. And don’t forget that the brain boost you get from the caffeine, especially if you run or train in the morning, can also help you focus and perform on the job later in the day. 

A blonde female in a side plank pose at the gym.

Reaper’s Tips and Reminders: 

  • Everyone’s caffeine tolerance is different. If you’re used to drinking caffeinated coffee regularly, you can expect there will be some resistance to small doses—you may just need to make it a bit stronger before that run. Nobody wants to feel slow and sluggish while pounding the pavement or hitting the treadmill. Remember that your ratio of muscle to fat, height and overall body weight plays a part in your caffeine tolerance and how beneficial it is for your run. 
  • If you brew that coffee before a workout to give your morning run a boost, then don’t forget this: Even if the coffee doesn’t dehydrate you, the run will. Drink other fluids too after the run that include lots of electrolytes. 
  • Do more than just drink coffee. Use the ground and/or instant to add to a smoothie, on top of ice cream or freeze it with herbs for another kind of cold and caffeinated treat. 

RELATED: What are the Health Benefits of Coffee?

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