Your Ultimate Guide to Caffeine Timing for Workout Performance & Recovery Optimization
Caffeine and exercise go together like peanut butter and jelly. Caffeine checks off all the boxes you need for the perfect weight training session. It helps with:
- Blood Flow
- Muscle Repair
- Fat Burning
But do you know how to time your caffeine consumption to optimize your workout performance and recovery? If not, you’re about to find out.
First thing’s first: the truth about morning coffee…
When you wake up, your body produces cortisol to get going. Cortisol is responsible for, among other things, helping with the body’s metabolism of glucose and controlling blood pressure. That sweet spot of cortisol release allows you to function normally. If you wake up and immediately slam coffee, the body is getting caffeine which replaces the natural waking up process. This can lead to caffeine dependence.
Don’t rely on a caffeine spike to get your body into gear in the morning. Wait to drink your first cup of coffee for a couple of hours and let your body get ready on its own. This will allow you to produce the cortisol you need to get to your optimum level. There may be an adjustment period, but let it ride for a few days and you’ll notice you feel much more energized, and when you have your coffee a little later it’ll be a nice boost.
Now, caffeine BEFORE your workout…
The best way to enjoy the maximum benefits of caffeine for your workout performance is to drink your beverage at least a half-hour before you train. However, you can wait up to an hour.
Most people benefit if they drink coffee specifically for their caffeine source pre-workout. This is due to its acidity, prompting the gut to produce hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid assists your body in breaking down the food you consumed pre-workout. As a result, it helps you use energy more efficiently and perform better in your training.
That said, you want most of those acids to break down before working out. Otherwise, they’ll mix with the lactic acid your tissues secrete and may cause some irritation. Some people prefer to drink their coffee or caffeine during the workout, but we advise 60-30 minutes beforehand. Who doesn’t love a good car coffee en route to the gym?
As for caffeine DURING the workout…
For weightlifting and strength training, it’s recommended to drink your caffeine before your workout for the aforementioned reasons. Especially if you drink coffee, a diuretic, you may need to use the bathroom more during your workout (not ideal). That said, if your warmup or activation work takes a long time and you want to peak about an hour into your workout, then drinking it during your warmup might be ideal for you.
However, if your workout is cardiovascular, you should NOT drink caffeine intra-workout. Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor and stimulator. It will cause your heart rate to increase artificially (from the caffeine vs the exercise). Because you want your heart rate to naturally rise from your cardio, not the caffeine, this can be problematic for your training, especially if you’re working with target heart rates.
Last but not least, caffeine AFTER the workout…
Caffeine post-workout gives you increased focus, improved blood flow, and extra support for muscle repair and recovery.
To reap the maximum benefits of your post-workout caffeine, create a cocktail of caffeine plus carbs and consume it right after your workout. Caffeine aids in carbohydrate uptake. Glycogen, the muscle's primary fuel source, is replenished more rapidly when you consume them together after your workout, new research shows. Athletes who ingested caffeine with their carbs recovered 66 percent more glycogen in their muscles four hours after their workout compared to those who had only carbs. That’s a lot better.
On top of that, an intense sweat session may create oxidative stress on the cells in your body. These consequences can cause anything from muscle damage to the formation of free radicals. That’s why our diet needs antioxidants. Thankfully, one of the benefits of coffee as your caffeine source is that it’s rich in these compounds.
Antioxidants fight off oxidative stress. They help clean out dead and damaged cells that may spark inflammation in the system. Furthermore, they assist in repairing some of the salvageable cells that make up our muscles. Not only does coffee and weight training inhibit the severity of DOMS, but it may speed up the recovery process and help you bulk up!
Here’s your simple recipe for optimized workout recovery: immediately post-workout, drink a shake of coffee and carbs. Or, have some pasta and drink yourself a strong cuppa (or two).