The Best Pre-Workout is Cheap and Extends Your Life

by on March 11, 2016

You are headed to the gym, and a brutal MountainDog leg workout is on the agenda. You need an extra kick for this workout otherwise it is going to crush you.

What do you slam before the gym for extra performance? A massive caffeine bomb of a pre-workout?

Or, a nice tall, mug of coffee?

Recently coffee went head to head with anhydrous caffeine. The researchers wanted to determine if coffee could outperform the most common ergogenic aid used almost all pre-workout supplements [5].

Set up:

The study was set up with nine resistance trained males with an average 300lb 1 RM squat, and 225lb 1 RM bench. The subjects trained at 60% of their 1 RM in five different sessions. The goal was to take their 60% 1 RM to failure at each session, and the sessions were separated by at least two days. The participants were also instructed to avoid caffeine consumption other than what they were given before their training sessions.

The protocol used:

  • 0.15 g/kg caffeinated coffee avg total 433 +/-40mg (3.4g per 100g coffee = 5.1g/kg body weight),

  • 0.15 g/kg decaffeinated coffee (5mg caffeine per kg coffee close to zero),

  • 0.15 g/kg decaffeinated coffee plus 5 mg/kg anhydrous caffeine avg total 425 +/- 39 mg

  • 5 mg/kg anhydrous caffeine avg total 425 +/- 39 mg

  • a placebo 5 mg·kg-1 maltodextrin

As you can see the researchers used multiple aspects to test the hypothesis. They used decaf coffee to test if something in the coffee other than caffeine’s ergogenic aid. The researchers also used decaf + caffeine to reproduce a similar coffee polyphenol profile.


NutritionBasics-2016-03-1As expected, every group with caffeine outperformed the two groups lacking caffeine (decaf and placebo) in squat work output. There are a few interesting things to note. None of the experimental groups had a significant effect on performance in the bench press. The source of the stimulants did not matter; none were able to help the bench press. Coffee, and decaf coffee plus anhydrous caffeine outperformed the placebo but also had better performance effects than pure caffeine.

Take Away:

The current study has the typical limitations of many resistance training studies, like small sample size and lack of control preceding the trial. Also, studies completed with human subjects lifting weights means there will be variance in effort and performance. The study also had a short duration leading to the question of chronic consumption and continued positive effects.

I think this study is still interesting, and it can be used to drive experimenting with changing up your pre-workout regimen. Caffeine is one of the most popular and widely studied ergogenic aids. It has been shown to be very useful for many people. So, using coffee as a delivery mechanism for caffeine will gain the benefits of caffeine, but it can improve performance even further.

I can safely say that for most people coffee will perform just as good as caffeine and possibly better. But, coffee brings other benefits like possible health benefits along with your wallet thanking you. Check out the next sections for the health benefits you should take advantage of by drinking coffee rather than a caffeinated pre-workout.

What Makes Coffee Special

Coffee, at a glance, seems like a simple substance. But, in reality, it is extremely complex containing over 1000 biologically active compounds. The active compounds found in coffee include caffeine, chlorogenic acid (antioxidant), and diterpene (known to raise cholesterol, which can be mitigated by using filtered coffee) [2]. Just a side note, caffeine concentrations can range from 95-200 mg per 8 oz even if you drink them from the same source. Even though a majority of caffeine consumption comes from coffee, you have to look past just caffeine for the exact effects of coffee.

Fat Loss

Research supports that even healthy people consuming coffee experience modest body fat loss. One interesting study had participants drink different coffee blends over four weeks. The roasts varied in the composition of various compounds which may or may not assist in fat loss. The subjects prepared 7.5g of coffee and consumed split it up into three equal portions to be consumed through the day.

The subjects lost more fat than the control group and did not lose any more lean body mass. They also reported they were not as hungry, increased mood and the coffee also did this despite the participants not reducing their caloric intake [1]

You might think caffeine is the main reason for the weight loss, but results have been shown in decaffeinated coffee as well. One of the thousands of active compounds other than caffeine is exerting the fat loss effects.

Type 2 Diabetes

Coffee has a growing body of researching supporting an inverse relationship between coffee consumption and incidence of type 2 diabetes. Research indicated antioxidants like chlorogenic acid, have the ability to help increase insulin sensitivity. Consuming five cups of coffee recently was shown to increase levels of adiponectin and increase insulin sensitivity. A systematic review analyzed cohort studies on low coffee consumption less than 2 cups a day to high consumption greater than 6 cups a day, for the risk of type 2 diabetes. The group consuming six or more cups had the lowest risk for type 2 diabetes and the group drinking 4-6 cups also showed a moderate risk reduction [4].

Cardiovascular Health

A few older studies hinted consuming coffee may have an adverse effect on cardiovascular health. The studies showed an increased risk of myocardial infarction and hypertension. These studies suffered as many do from possible confounding factors that were not analyzed like, smoking, alcohol, and physical activity). Recently, epidemiological studies analyzed together in a meta-analysis, suggest chronic consumption of coffee may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. The antioxidant properties of coffee may be helping the overall health of blood vessels. Also, coffee can help control blood sugar control through increased insulin sensitivity (as stated above) as well as lower inflammation which is a common driver of cardiovascular disease [4].

Coffee drinking has been shown to decrease all-cause mortality, normally due to the reduced CVD risk. But, the association between coffee drinking and reduced mortality from CVD, cancer, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, and infections.

Brain Health and Mood

Coffee, as you may have noticed, has a beneficial effect on mood. Consuming coffee reducing anxiety as well as elevates mood [6]. Combining that with increased focus and you have the perfect morning kick starter but those effects are ideal for pre-workout as well. More studies are supporting the healthy impacts of coffee intake and brain health. People that consume more coffee have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Coffee seems to be most effect before severe Alzheimer’s has truly set in so, consuming it earlier rather than later will have more benefit. There are now studies that are also supporting that coffee has a correlation with reducing the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. The reduction ranges from 25% to 80% for people consuming daily coffee with a dose-dependent response increasing to 80% reduction in drinking greater than 4 cups of coffee [3].


Coffee intake can have beneficial effects on performance and possibly for long term health. The optimal timing of coffee intake will depend and a myriad of factors like if you metabolize caffeine fast or slow, the frequency of use, type of exercise and the list goes on. One study found the optimal intake was 35 min before the workout. But, again you will need to experiment on yourself anywhere from 20-90min might work best for you.

I also recommend filtering your coffee rather than boiling it in water. Research has repeatedly shown that filtered coffee removes diterpenes, which have been shown to increase cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Diterpenes are extracted from the coffee by contact with hot water. Filtering coffee reduces contact with hot water as well the filter removing the diterpenes.

Most of the single epidemiologic studies analyzing the risks and rewards of drinking coffee support the balance tipping towards greater health effects than risks. More literature points to a positive dose-dependant relationship between coffee and health markers as well as an inverse relationship between coffee consumption and all-cause mortality.

So, if you like coffee and you can feel safe in having your cups of coffee. You can try experimenting with using coffee as a cheap and possibly healthy alternative to the traditional pre-workout. Just be sure to not turn your coffee into a dessert or calorie bomb by adding a stick of butter to it.


Works Cited

1] Bakuradze, Tamara, Gina Alejandra Montoya Parra, Annett Riedel, Veronika Somoza, Roman Lang, Natalie Dieminger, Thomas Hofmann, Swantje Winkler, Ute Hassmann, Doris Marko, Dorothea Schipp, Jochen Raedle, Gerhard Bytof, Ingo Lantz, Herbert Stiebitz, and Elke Richling. “Four-week Coffee Consumption Affects Energy Intake, Satiety Regulation, Body Fat, and Protects DNA Integrity.” Food Research International 63 (2014): 420-27. Print.

2] Huxley, Rachel. “Coffee, Decaffeinated Coffee, and Tea Consumption in Relation to Incident Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.” Arch Intern Med Archives of Internal Medicine 169.22 (2009): 2053. Print.

3] Liang, Ningjian, and David Kitts. “Role of Chlorogenic Acids in Controlling Oxidative and Inflammatory Stress Conditions.” Nutrients 8.1 (2015): 16. Print.

4] Nehlig, Astrid. “Effects of Coffee/caffeine on Brain Health and Disease: What Should I Tell My Patients?” Practical Neurology Pract Neurol (2015). Print.

5] O’keefe, James H., Salman K. Bhatti, Harshal R. Patil, James J. Dinicolantonio, Sean C. Lucan, and Carl J. Lavie. “Effects of Habitual Coffee Consumption on Cardiometabolic Disease, Cardiovascular Health, and All-Cause Mortality.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology 62.12 (2013): 1043-051. Print.

6] Richardson, Darren L., and Neil D. Clarke. “Effect Of Coffee And Caffeine Ingestion On Resistance Exercise Performance.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2016): 1. Print.

7] Wang, L., X. Shen, Y. Wu, and D. Zhang. “Coffee and Caffeine Consumption and Depression: A Meta-analysis of Observational Studies.” Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 50.3 (2015): 228-42. Print.