Taking caffeine before a workout may seem counter intuitive to some, but science says otherwise. When you hit the gym, the benefit you see at the end of the session will often times be determined by the level of effort you exert during the workout (I say often because nutrition also plays a huge factor). Spending 45 minutes in the gym doing crappy workout takes the same amount of time to do a great workout. How you fuel yourself will ultimately determine if you spent that 45 minutes wisely or should have just stayed in bed. If caffeine is something you should take before a workout, what is it going to do and how much should you take?
Perception of Effort
Perception of effort is the level of effort you feel you are putting into a workout. How hard you perceive you are working plays a heavy factor into outcome of the workout. If you feel like the sprint you are doing is a breeze, you can keep up that sprint for longer because it doesn’t feel like its that big of a deal. On the other hand, you can feel like your killing yourself and cut your workout short even though your muscles may have some steam left. Caffeine plays an important role in decreasing how hard you perceive you are working because of the impact it has on the Central Nervous System as proven by the research linked in this article.
Researchers in the UK wanted to determine whether co-ingestion of fat and caffeine would have a greater benefit than just fat alone before performing strenuous exercise. They compared both of these groups to a control group that just exercised. They had some surprising results. For the group that ingested caffeine plus fat, their perceived level of effort across all areas was lower than both the fat group and the control group.
Even more significant than the perceived level of effort is the increase in VO2 max with the caffeine plus fat group. This means that the caffeine plus fat intake increased the aerobic physical fitness of the individuals in this study.
Caffeine Dosing Before a Workout
So the study mentioned above was dosing caffeine quite high. At 7 mg per kg (or around 3 mg a pound), someone 180 pounds would have been taking around 560 mg of caffeine. Sensitivity is always a concern for many people when it comes to caffeine. Is that much caffeine really required in order to receive any benefit during exercise?
Caffeine is incredibly well studied. It turns out 560 mg could be more than you really need. This study looked at the endurance of runners (among other things) following no caffeine, 3 mg per kg, 6 mg per kg, and 9 mg per kg of body weight. The results below show the 3 and 6 mg groups were able to run longer than the other two groups. These results fall right in line with many other studies than have been done to test the effective dose of caffeine.
Taking caffeine before a workout has been shown to be very effective. It is not bad to have caffeine before working out like many think. Taking as little as 240 mg of caffeine can greatly decrease your perception of effort and increase VO2 max and endurance. Looking through all of the research perhaps the most effective dose someone can take to increase their effort in the gym is around 2 mg of caffeine per pound. At 180 pounds a person would be taking 360 mg. While this may seem high, building a tolerance to caffeine will happen so you may want to work your way up to that high of a dose.
How do you get the caffeine you need? We prefer 100 mg caffeine pills. You can always opt to drinking coffee but synthetic sources have been shown as a more effective on the Central Nervous System. DO NOT USE PURE CAFFEINE POWDER. Caffeine is very dangerous in high doses and caffeine powder is very easy to overdose on so avoid is all together.
As always, if you have questions, concerns, or just comments and rebuttals to our articles leave a comment and we will always respond.