Coffee Before Running? Performance Benefits + How Much To Drink

Are espresso shots secretly rocket fuel for runners?

If you are a morning runner, a question you likely have considered is: “Should you drink coffee before running?

Not only do many adults enjoy starting their day with a cup of coffee, but the endurance performance benefits of caffeine are well documented in research studies1Lm, B. (2008, December 1). Caffeine and sports performance. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism = Physiologie Appliquee, Nutrition et Metabolisme. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19088794/ to date.

But, while caffeine’s effects on running and athletic performance for endurance athletes at large are certainly appealing, is a cup of Joe, energy drinks, caffeine pills, pre-workout supplements, a shot of espresso, or any other forms of caffeine right for you?

Do the benefits of caffeine ergogenic aid (athletic performance enhancing supplement) outweigh the downsides of caffeine, and does it matter if you drink coffee or consume caffeine in some other form?

In this guide to drinking coffee before running, we will discuss the endurance performance benefits of coffee and caffeine, different sources of caffeine for endurance athletes, how much coffee you should drink before running, and the potential side effects.

A person holding a cup of coffee.

Is It Good To Drink Coffee Before Running?

There have been quite a few scientific studies investigating the effects of caffeine on exercise performance,2Guest, N. S., VanDusseldorp, T. A., Nelson, M. T., Grgic, J., Schoenfeld, B. J., Jenkins, N. D. M., Arent, S. M., Antonio, J., Stout, J. R., Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Goldstein, E. R., Kalman, D. S., & Campbell, B. I. (2021). International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition18(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-020-00383-4 with benefits showing improvements in sprint performance as well as endurance.

Caffeine is a stimulant so it can increase alertness and energy. 

Caffeine is often used as an ergogenic aid because it can increase your stamina or time to exhaustion during endurance exercise

Caffeine may also increase fat oxidation, which can preserve glycogen stores to prevent “hitting the wall” in a half marathon, marathon, or long workout.

For example, one study3An, S. M., Park, J. S., & Kim, S. H. (2014). Effect of energy drink dose on exercise capacity, heart rate recovery and heart rate variability after high-intensity exercise. Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry18(1), 31–39. https://doi.org/10.5717/jenb.2014.18.1.31 found that ingesting 2.5 mg/kg of caffeine increased time to exhaustion during high-intensity exercise (11.2 minutes with caffeine versus 7.9 minutes without). 

One study4Pedersen, D. J., Lessard, S. J., Coffey, V. G., Churchley, E. G., Wootton, A. M., Ng, T., Watt, M. J., & Hawley, J. A. (2008). High rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis after exhaustive exercise when carbohydrate is coingested with caffeine. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985)105(1), 7–13. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.01121.2007 looked at the effects of caffeine intake plus carbohydrates on post-workout glycogen resynthesis in trained endurance cyclists.

Results demonstrated that consuming high amounts of caffeine (8 mg of caffeine per kg of bodyweight) alongside carbs had an additive effect on rates of postexercise muscle glycogen accumulation compared with consumption of carbohydrates alone.

In terms of sprinting efforts, one study5Paton, C. D., Lowe, T., & Irvine, A. (2010). Caffeinated chewing gum increases repeated sprint performance and augments increases in testosterone in competitive cyclists. European Journal of Applied Physiology110(6), 1243–1250. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-010-1620-6 found that caffeinated chewing gum reduced fatigue during repeated, high-intensity cycling bouts.

Subjects who had a placebo, non-caffeinated gum saw a performance decline of 5.8% whereas those who had the caffeinated sports gum only saw a decline of 0.4%. 

Those with the caffeinated gum also showed increased testosterone levels, and decreased cortisol levels.

In addition to micronutrients, coffee is high in antioxidants,6Svilaas, A., Sakhi, A. K., Andersen, L. F., Svilaas, T., StrömE. C., Jacobs, D. R., Ose, L., & Blomhoff, R. (2004). Intakes of Antioxidants in Coffee, Wine, and Vegetables Are Correlated with Plasma Carotenoids in Humans. The Journal of Nutrition134(3), 562–567. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/134.3.562 which is why consuming a moderate amount of caffeine can be advantageous for your health, and may decrease inflammation.

A person drinking a cup of coffee.

How To Drink Coffee Before Running For Maximum Results

As mentioned, studies have shown7Caffeine: Benefits, risks, and effects. (n.d.). Www.medicalnewstoday.com. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/285194#uses that caffeine is indeed an ergogenic aid (which means that it can boost athletic performance) for both high-intensity power and speed workouts like sprinting as well as endurance performance for long distance running, cycling, etc.

But, there are certain considerations to optimize the benefits of coffee before running or some other form of caffeine before running.

Here are some tips for how to use caffeine to maximize the perks and minimize the side effects of coffee before running:

Time your coffee drinking.

To maximize the effects of caffeine for exercise performance, you need to time your coffee drinking before running so that the caffeine is metabolized and reaches its peak potency while you are running.

Studies8Adan, A., Prat, G., Fabbri, M., & Sànchez-Turet, M. (2008). Early effects of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee on subjective state and gender differences. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry32(7), 1698–1703. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pnpbp.2008.07.005 suggest that having a cup of coffee or a source of caffeine about 30-45 minutes before a workout is ideal because it gives the digestive system and liver enough time to have the caffeine reach the bloodstream without waiting too long that the concentration of caffeine begins to decline.

That said, because every runner or endurance athlete has their own unique biochemistry and sensitivity to caffeine, you may need to experiment to see the best caffeine timing before running for your own body.

The caffeine dosage and the other nutrients that you are consuming in your pre-workout meal or snack may also affect how long it takes for caffeine to hit your bloodstream and provide maximum effectiveness as an ergogenic aid.

A person smelling a cup of coffee.

How Much Coffee Should You Drink Before Running?

Studies9Spriet, L. L. (2014). Exercise and Sport Performance with Low Doses of Caffeine. Sports Medicine44(S2), 175–184. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-014-0257-8 have shown that 3-5mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight is optimal to see the performance benefits of caffeine for running.

To convert your body weight in pounds to kilograms, divide the number of pounds by 2.2.

For example, if you weigh 165 pounds: 165/2.2 = 75 kg.

Then, multiply your body weight in kilograms by three and five to see the range of the amount of caffeine in milligrams you should consume before running to improve running performance.

75 x 3 = 225 mg and 75 x 5 = 375 mg

Note that while research studies suggest that 3 to 5 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight is the optimal caffeine dosage for improving athletic performance, this is quite high.

Many medical experts and running coaches suggest that even a single cup of coffee, which usually contains between 150 and 200 mg of caffeine, is sufficient to have an effective performance boosting benefit for most endurance athletes.

In fact, there’s some evidence10Spriet, L. L. (2014). Exercise and Sport Performance with Low Doses of Caffeine. Sports Medicine44(S2), 175–184. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-014-0257-8 to suggest that even smaller doses of 2 to 3 mg/kg, or about 200 mg total of caffeine, can improve exercise performance.

A variety of cups of coffee.

The other thing to consider is that numerous research studies have found that the human body can develop a caffeine tolerance.11Holtzman, S. G., & Finn, I. B. (1988). Tolerance to behavioral effects of caffeine in rats. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior29(2), 411–418. https://doi.org/10.1016/0091-3057(88)90179-7

‌This means that your body will become accustomed to the amount of caffeine or coffee you are regularly consuming.

Therefore, the positive effects of coffee or caffeine for stimulating your body, increasing your energy, decreasing rate of perceived exertion while running, increasing time to fatigue, and helping you feel more awake and alert will be less pronounced.

It is typically best to use the minimum effective dose, meaning that you should have as little coffee before running as necessary to see improvements in your running performance.

Another good work around to help prevent your body from developing a tolerance to caffeine is to do some runs without any coffee rather than having coffee before every run, or have much less caffeine before running a couple of days per week.

This variation will keep your body guessing and may help prevent seeing diminishing effects of caffeine on exercise performance and overall energy levels.

Caffeine has been shown to be an addictive substance,12Evans, S. M., & Griffiths, R. R. (1992). Caffeine tolerance and choice in humans. Psychopharmacology108(1-2), 51–59. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf02245285 and like other addictive drugs, you can experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking it suddenly.

Three cups of coffee.

Side Effects Of Drinking Coffee Before A Run

Another benefit of trying to keep your caffeine intake before running on the lower side of the recommended dosage is that there are side effects of too much coffee drinking before running.

For one, coffee is a liquid, and a diuretic.

Therefore, if you are drinking several cups of coffee before running, you may find yourself running to the bathroom mid run—and, not just to pee—coffee tends to stimulate the bowels as well.

Therefore, you may end up with gas, an upset stomach, and an unfortunate case of runner’s diarrhea if you drink too many cups of your favorite morning Joe before lacing up your running shoes.

Other side effects to consuming too much caffeine13Winston, A. P., Hardwick, E., & Jaberi, N. (2005). Neuropsychiatric effects of caffeine. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment11(6), 432–439. https://doi.org/10.1192/apt.11.6.432 include jitters, anxiety, rapid heart rate, nervousness, increased blood pressure,14Maughan, R. J., & Griffin, J. (2003). Caffeine ingestion and fluid balance: a review. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics16(6), 411–420. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-277x.2003.00477.x stomach issues, heart palpitations, difficulty sleeping,15Snel, J., & Lorist, M. M. (2011). Effects of caffeine on sleep and cognition. Progress in Brain Research190, 105–117. https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-444-53817-8.00006-2 irritability, tension, and even exacerbated panic attacks.

A cup of coffee surrounded by coffee beans.

To minimize these side effects, most health experts16P, N., S, J., J, E., J, R., A, H., & M, F. (2003, January 1). Effects of Caffeine on Human Health. Food Additives and Contaminants. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12519715/ and registered dietitians say that you should not exceed 3 mg of caffeine per pound of body weight or about 6 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight per day.

Keep in mind that some of the negative effects of coffee before running may be sidestepped if you choose another form of caffeine such as caffeinated gum or caffeine pills, and increase your hydration.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand on caffeine and exercise performance notes that caffeinated chewing gum is an effective ergogenic aid, especially for endurance performance.

It has been shown to increase cycling performance when ingested immediately before exercise because it has a rapid delivery method.

Another perk of these forms of caffeine is that the caffeine dosage is clearly labeled on the product so you know your exact caffeine consumption.

The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee depends on several factors such as the coffee beans themselves, how long the coffee beans were roasted, and how long the coffee was brewed.

A person drinking a cup of coffee.

Typically, the same principles apply in terms of determining the amount of caffeine in green tea, black tea, Matcha tea, or other caffeinated drinks that you are brewing yourself.

These variables make it hard to know exactly how much caffeine you are having with coffee drinking before running versus caffeinated energy gels, caffeinated chewing gum, or caffeine pills.

The number of milligrams of caffeine in Coke, Pepsi, energy drinks, and other caffeinated soft drinks is typically available online or even right on the cola or energy drink can.

Pre-workout supplements or powders have to disclose the caffeine content, but the labeling on some of the caffeinated pre-workout supplements is not very transparent and there can be ingredients that amplify the effects of caffeine such as taurine.

There can be safety precautions and contraindications to coffee drinking with certain medical conditions and medications.

Particularly if you have underlying cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure or heart disease, kidney disease, migraines, or take medication such as those for hypertension, are pregnant or breast-feeding, or have a heart arrhythmia, you should speak with your healthcare provider before consuming coffee or some form of caffeine as an ergogenic aid. 

What is your experience with drinking coffee before a morning run or on race day? Are you a coffee drinker who likes the morning jolt before you run or do you prefer decaffeinated coffee or no caffeinated beverages?

A person laughing holding a cup of coffee.

References

  • 1
    Lm, B. (2008, December 1). Caffeine and sports performance. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism = Physiologie Appliquee, Nutrition et Metabolisme. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19088794/
  • 2
    Guest, N. S., VanDusseldorp, T. A., Nelson, M. T., Grgic, J., Schoenfeld, B. J., Jenkins, N. D. M., Arent, S. M., Antonio, J., Stout, J. R., Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Goldstein, E. R., Kalman, D. S., & Campbell, B. I. (2021). International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition18(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-020-00383-4
  • 3
    An, S. M., Park, J. S., & Kim, S. H. (2014). Effect of energy drink dose on exercise capacity, heart rate recovery and heart rate variability after high-intensity exercise. Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry18(1), 31–39. https://doi.org/10.5717/jenb.2014.18.1.31
  • 4
    Pedersen, D. J., Lessard, S. J., Coffey, V. G., Churchley, E. G., Wootton, A. M., Ng, T., Watt, M. J., & Hawley, J. A. (2008). High rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis after exhaustive exercise when carbohydrate is coingested with caffeine. Journal of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985)105(1), 7–13. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.01121.2007
  • 5
    Paton, C. D., Lowe, T., & Irvine, A. (2010). Caffeinated chewing gum increases repeated sprint performance and augments increases in testosterone in competitive cyclists. European Journal of Applied Physiology110(6), 1243–1250. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-010-1620-6
  • 6
    Svilaas, A., Sakhi, A. K., Andersen, L. F., Svilaas, T., StrömE. C., Jacobs, D. R., Ose, L., & Blomhoff, R. (2004). Intakes of Antioxidants in Coffee, Wine, and Vegetables Are Correlated with Plasma Carotenoids in Humans. The Journal of Nutrition134(3), 562–567. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/134.3.562
  • 7
    Caffeine: Benefits, risks, and effects. (n.d.). Www.medicalnewstoday.com. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/285194#uses
  • 8
    Adan, A., Prat, G., Fabbri, M., & Sànchez-Turet, M. (2008). Early effects of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee on subjective state and gender differences. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry32(7), 1698–1703. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pnpbp.2008.07.005
  • 9
    Spriet, L. L. (2014). Exercise and Sport Performance with Low Doses of Caffeine. Sports Medicine44(S2), 175–184. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-014-0257-8
  • 10
    Spriet, L. L. (2014). Exercise and Sport Performance with Low Doses of Caffeine. Sports Medicine44(S2), 175–184. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-014-0257-8
  • 11
    Holtzman, S. G., & Finn, I. B. (1988). Tolerance to behavioral effects of caffeine in rats. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior29(2), 411–418. https://doi.org/10.1016/0091-3057(88)90179-7
  • 12
    Evans, S. M., & Griffiths, R. R. (1992). Caffeine tolerance and choice in humans. Psychopharmacology108(1-2), 51–59. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf02245285
  • 13
    Winston, A. P., Hardwick, E., & Jaberi, N. (2005). Neuropsychiatric effects of caffeine. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment11(6), 432–439. https://doi.org/10.1192/apt.11.6.432
  • 14
    Maughan, R. J., & Griffin, J. (2003). Caffeine ingestion and fluid balance: a review. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics16(6), 411–420. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-277x.2003.00477.x
  • 15
    Snel, J., & Lorist, M. M. (2011). Effects of caffeine on sleep and cognition. Progress in Brain Research190, 105–117. https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-444-53817-8.00006-2
  • 16
    P, N., S, J., J, E., J, R., A, H., & M, F. (2003, January 1). Effects of Caffeine on Human Health. Food Additives and Contaminants. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12519715/
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

3 thoughts on “Coffee Before Running? Performance Benefits + How Much To Drink”

  1. I so love my coffee. I am an avid coffee maker at home and coffee snob. I will never grab a cup of freeze dried anymore. Have not done that in over 15 years. My machine is big and loud and getting up early 5-5:30am for my runs is not conducive to noise for my young family. I do like your suggestion of the Moka pot or Aeropress though. I reckon I can get away with the kettle so i’ll look to grind the night before, store it appropriately so it does not oxidise and do a filter coffee in my V60. Willing to try that as I train for my first half-marathon.

    Reply
    • I like good coffee so the morning quick drink wont work for me. Instead I will use a pre-workout drink shot with caffein in it or even take a caffein pill (100mg) before my run. Works quickly and gives the same impact. This way I get my run in then I can sit and enjoy a real coffee after.
      Note: I used to do bulletproof coffee combo before races to clear out the plumbing but found the results could slow me down as I ran to a bathroom.

      Reply
  2. I got addicted to drinking 2 cups of black tea (English and Irish Breakfast) before a run. The run is fantastic! Much more so then if I didn’t have the tea. I don’t like this!!! I used to run for many years without tea and totally enjoyed running but once I discovered tea that all changed. Well, I guess I have to keep it up for the rest of my life or else! As you might expect, I do not recommend starting drinking tea to anyone. I believe this would appaly to coffe and anything else that makes you feel better while runing.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.