6 Ways Coffee Can Enhance Your Athletic Performance

No need to rush to a supplement store for expensive packaged powders or pills: Fire up the coffee pot and enjoy a warm cup of joe before your workout instead. Just leave out the cream and sugar.

Some active adults and athletes want to enhance athletic performance with stimulants, but without the adverse effects that can come from unregulated supplements. Coffee may be a safe alternative, since it contains the natural stimulant caffeine. In fact, black coffee has become a popular pre-workout drink.1 Here's why.

1) Coffee Helps Burn Fat and Boost Energy

The high levels of caffeine in coffee significantly improve the ability to burn fat during exercise.2 In addition, drinking coffee in the morning means consuming fewer calories during the day because caffeine suppresses appetite. 

Research shows a significant increase in fat oxidation (burning) as a result of increased metabolism. This means coffee provides more effective fat burning during a workout and for several hours following exercise.3 Most studies surrounding caffeine recommendations are 5mg to 6mg kg per kilogram of body weight. 

If you are a 150-pound athlete (about 68 kilograms of body weight), your recommended dose would be roughly 340mg to 409mg of caffeine for moderate dosing. If you have never used caffeine before, a recommended starting dose would be 136mg to 204mg or 2mg to 3mg of caffeine per kilogram of weight. One cup of coffee contains about 95 to 100 mg of caffeine.

Caffeine is in your bloodstream within about 15 minutes of consumption. The peak stimulant effect of coffee occurs 40 to 80 minutes after drinking a cup.4 Once caffeine enters the bloodstream, the body responds in several ways. Blood pressure and heart rate increase, fat stores are broken down, and fatty acids are released into the bloodstream. The result: Many people feel energetic and ready for a great workout.  

2) Coffee Increases Metabolism

Caffeine enhances the metabolic rate, the rate at which the body uses or burns energy. Research shows that consuming coffee is associated with a significant increase in metabolic rate during caffeine ingestion and continuing for three hours.

The body reacts to coffee and caffeine just like any other drug. Habitual, large dose use is counterproductive. In this case, more is not better and it takes a small amount to achieve great results.

3) Coffee Enhances Athletic Performance

“Caffeine is effective for enhancing various types of performance when consumed in low-to-moderate doses,” according to a position stand from the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Even if you are already a coffee drinker, you may find that simply consuming your coffee prior to working out yields a significant difference in performance ability.

Caffeine enables an athlete to train longer and with greater power output. Caffeine was also shown to improve endurance levels and resistance to fatigue. Endurance athletes appear to benefit greatly from coffee. Coffee stimulates the body to use fat stores, instead of muscle glycogen (sugar), during long workouts. This allows for prolonged use of working muscles.

Research on coffee and the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) indicated that athletes had a more positive exercise experience when they consumed coffee. They felt less fatigue and effort during their workout sessions.  

4) Coffee Promotes Better Concentration

Coffee and caffeine have been shown to improve mental focus. Caffeine is a natural stimulant that can improve brain function and have a positive impact on the areas of the brain responsible for memory and concentration. When thinking is sharp, workouts become more productive and effective.

One study of older adults found that caffeine may improve mental performance and reduce the progression of age-related mental decline. Other research examined the effects of caffeine intake on the prefrontal lobe of the brain. This area of the brain is specific to attention span, planning, and concentration. Results determined that caffeine improved brain function in this area.

Another study measured the cognitive effects of caffeine on athletes. Those athletes consuming caffeine prior to intense fitness training showed improved concentration with the ability to sustain high levels of exercise intensity. These results also included athletes without sufficient sleep. 

5) Coffee Reduces Muscle Pain

A small study involving 9 women found that drinking two cups of coffee can reduce post-workout muscle soreness. This is a significant improvement for active adults concerned about soreness after an intense workout. 

Another small study of 9 caffeine-consuming males found that caffeine significantly reduced post-workout muscle soreness and shortened recovery time compared to a placebo when measured on day 2 and 3 post-workout. The participants drinking coffee prior to upper body weight training were also able to complete more repetitions on their final set.

Drinking a cup of coffee prior to exercise may help those who tend to give up during a workout. Exercise can cause painful lactic acid build-up when the muscle is stressed. Some tend to stop working out because of this discomfort.

6) Coffee Helps Fight Disease

Coffee contains powerful antioxidants shown to reduce our risk of disease. Antioxidants work by removing free radicals that cause inflammation in the body resulting in illnesses and diseases. According to research published in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics“coffee provides one of the greatest sources of antioxidants in the American diet.” 

Coffee and caffeine health benefits have been linked to disease prevention. Studies have shown coffee to reduce inflammation, help Parkinson’s disease, and lower the incidence of certain cancers. It may also lower the occurrence of gallstones.