I’ve noticed a new trend in the gym of late, one that’s become about as pertinent as one-shoulder sports bras and wide-leg yoga pants: People drinking coffee during their workouts.
As a morning-exercise fan, I’ve always gulped down a cold brew before hitting the megaformer, which RDs say is totally fine. Chugging a cup mid-routine, though? That seems like some next-level commitment to the caffeine habit, so I had to know from the pros if it was a good idea—or even okay at all. “Caffeine is a stimulant. It stimulates the nervous system and makes us more awake, and it can also stimulate your nervous system, heart, and other systems in your body, which can help with physical performance during your workout,” says Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, CDN .
The fitness world seems to agree with that sentiment. “At about 100 milligrams of caffeine per cup, coffee can provide a nice lift in energy and alertness for a person’s workout when consumed prior to—or at the beginning of—a workout,” says Andy Coggan, CSCS, CPT, NASM CES, Director of Fitness at Gold’s Gym. It can also assist in nervous system arousal and mobilizing fat cells for energy consumption, he adds, but these benefits are best reaped when you’re downing your coffee 15 to 30 minutes before you hit the gym, or as early into the workout as possible.
“Every body is different, and how you metabolize and how that energy will affect you differs from person-to-person,” explains Zeitlin. In general, the sweet spot for drinking coffee is about 20 minutes before a workout. “If you’re drinking it while you’re working out, it depends how long your workout is as to whether you’ll reap the benefits. If you’re working out for an hour, you’ll experience the benefits, if you’re working out for 20 minutes, you might miss that window.”
Of course, it’s also worth taking into consideration how your body responds to caffeine. If, for example, you rarely drink coffee and decide to pound a large iced latte in the middle of your mid-morning run, you might run into some problems. As Niket Sonpal, MD, a Brooklyn-based gastroenterologist (who is not a proponent of drinking coffee during a workout) points out, a cuppa joe can have a laxative effect, which may have you running from the treadmill to the bathroom. Plus, if you’re drinking it before an evening workout, you may have trouble sleeping later on.
You also want to think about why you’re working out, and what you want to get out of the experience. “If you’re working out to chill out or check out without stress and anxiety, you probably don’t want that caffeine boost. If you’re someone who’s like, I want to get in my cardio hard fast, in and out, then caffeine during a workout would make more sense for that purpose,” says Zeitlin, adding that endurance-based activities like spinning and running tend to benefit from a little caffeine jolt.
If you are going to bring a coffee with you to the gym, Zeitlin suggests skipping on the sugar substitutes, which can cause bloating; and instead, pairing it with a piece of fruit before or after you exercise. While milk and mylk are generally fine—especially because they have protein, which will help with post-workout recovery—be sure you’re not using a product that has any of its own added sugar.
As all of the experts will tell you, there’s a catch: You should only be drinking coffee while you work out if you’re washing it down with plenty of water, because of its diuretic effects. “Caffeine can be dehydrating so you don’t want it to be the only fluid you’re taking,” says Zeitlin. “You should think about it in addition to your water and hydration, not as a part of it.”
Now that I’m hyped up and hydrated, I’ll be trying the Trainer of the Month Club workout with Val Verdier—join me?
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