The quick answer: It depends on the supplement!
Every pre-workout would have a slightly different amount of caffeine and sometimes even from different sources. What the real question here is: “how much caffeine do you need before a workout?”.
When it comes to ergogenic aids, caffeine is one of the most popular supplements on the market. Available in various forms, caffeine comes as tablets, powder, as a component in pre-workout, gum, energy drinks, and the most obvious one—coffee!
Used by many athletes, from runners to weightlifters, there is no doubting its effectiveness for enhancing sports performance, particularly as it’s recommended by the top governing bodies in the sports nutrition industry.
Quick definition—ergogenic aid: commonly refers to a supplement that can improve exercise performance capacity and/or enhance training adaptations. Another example of an ergogenic aid would be creatine.
This article discusses all things caffeine, how to take it, the benefits of taking it for sports performance, and how much you should take to reap the benefits!
Firstly, let’s familiarize ourselves with pre-workout supplements in general.
What Are Pre-Workouts?
Pre-workouts are one of the most marketed sports supplements in the fitness industry.
Pre-workouts are often taken to boost strength, power, energy, and focus before a workout, thus leading to increased workout intensity and duration, which therefore helps increase the rate of muscle growth and fat burn.
Pre-workouts most commonly come in the form of powders that you mix with water and consume around 30-60 minutes before your session begins.
They often contain ingredients such as caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, and amino acids that help boost your energy, buffer lactic acid build-up, and maximize muscle growth and repair.
Caffeine is usually the main ingredient in a pre-workout, as this is the culprit for increased energy and stimulation, which is likely the most noticeable effect when training.
Let’s delve into caffeine!
Introduction to Caffeine
Each day, billions of us consume caffeine first thing in the morning when we pour ourselves a cup of coffee.
This natural stimulant is actually one of the most commonly consumed ingredients globally, with many studies reporting certain health and performance benefits through moderate consumption.
While the side effects of high caffeine intake are often talked about, the aim of this article is to shine a light on the more positive side to consuming caffeine in the context of sports.
So, what exactly is caffeine?
Caffeine is a natural stimulant sourced from the fruit, leaves, and beans of coffee, cacao, and guarana plants, though it can also be created synthetically.
Once consumed, caffeine mainly affects our brain function. It works to block the effects of adenosine, which is the neurotransmitter involved in relaxing the brain and making us feel tired.
For added context, adenosine builds up in our brain throughout the day, which is what makes us feel increasingly tired as the night-time draws in. Thus, caffeine can actually block this tired feeling.
Additionally, caffeine also increases our adrenaline levels and boosts dopamine and norepinephrine activity in the brain, which further stimulates the brain, making us feel more alert and focused.
Caffeine can have this effect as little as 20 minutes after consumption, whether that be in the form of a coffee or an energy drink!
Let’s look closer at the benefits of these effects for sports performance.
The Benefits of Caffeine for Sports Performance
Supplementing with caffeine has been shown to acutely enhance various aspects of exercise performance, most notably:
- Muscular endurance and maximal strength
- Repeated sprint performance
- High-intensity training
- Endurance performance
So, it appears that whatever kind of training you do, caffeine will help boost your performance. Let’s delve in a bit deeper!
Caffeine and Endurance Performance1
If you’re an endurance athlete, you will probably get the best benefit from caffeine. Consuming caffeine before an endurance-based workout has been shown to improve performance by significantly raising time to exhaustion.
What this means is that endurance athletes can go harder for longer, particularly long-distance cyclists, runners, and cross-country skiers.
Caffeine and High-Intensity Exercise1
The research in this specific area is fairly mixed, although the main conclusion from many studies suggests that caffeine may be beneficial for more trained athletes.
Caffeine is thought to boost high-intensity performance in high-intensity settings such as sprints, rowing, and team sports.
Caffeine and Strength1
Research is still emerging in the area, although what studies suggest so far is that caffeine may provide benefits to those who take part in strength or power-based exercise.
As caffeine is thought to improve muscular endurance, this may also translate to strength in settings where weight is being lifted for multiple repetitions.
Caffeine and Fat Loss1
Caffeine is often the main ingredient in many weight-loss supplements.
It should come as no surprise that caffeine boosts energy, thus enabling an individual to move more, train harder, thus, burn more fat.
Additionally, caffeine may also help release fat stores during a workout, therefore enabling the body to burn fat at a faster rate. It does this by increasing heat production and epinephrine, which helps burn additional calories and fat.
Caffeine and Cognitive Function1
Not only can caffeine enhance physical performance, but there is also some research that suggests that it affects cognitive function too.
Caffeine acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system. So, depending on the dose, it can help improve mental performance, particularly on alertness, attention, and concentration.
Caffeine: How Much Should You Take Before a Workout?
Caffeine has consistently been shown to improve exercise performance when consumed in doses of 3-6 mg per kg of body weight.1
For example, this is somewhere in between 240-480 mg of caffeine for an 80 kg individual. This can be quite a large dose to take in one go, which is why many athletes opt for caffeine anhydrous.
This is a processed, dehydrated form of caffeine that normally comes in pill or gum form. This would allow the consumer to take the accurate recommended dose of caffeine to enhance sports performance as opposed to drinking multiple large energy drinks or cups of coffee.
It’s important to note that when it comes to caffeine, more is not better. Very high doses of caffeine can lead to negative side effects such as GI issues, anxiety and sleep problems.
Interestingly, every individual has a different tolerance to caffeine. So, it’s important to start on a low dose and work your way up to a dose that suits you best.
Many factors can contribute to a person’s caffeine tolerance, such as your genes and habitual intake, which also plays a role in how caffeine would affect your performance.
If you’re a competitive athlete, this becomes even more important. It’s key to gauge your physical response to caffeine during training and competition while monitoring potential effects on mood and sleep patterns.
When it comes to timing your caffeine intake before a workout, this is also a fairly individual approach. Though, the most commonly used timing of caffeine is 60 minutes pre training.
Optimal timing of caffeine would also depend on the source of the caffeine, for example, if you are consuming caffeine in liquid or pill form, you may need longer for liquids to travel through your system as opposed to a quick pill.
How To Take Caffeine
Following on from the above—is there a best way to take caffeine?
Yet again, there is no one right way to supplement with caffeine. The source, dose, and effects are highly individual, so it’s important to gauge your tolerance and preferred source in training and competition.
The most popular way for athletes specifically is the dehydrated, processed form of caffeine—caffeine anhydrous. This is a more potent, accurate dose of caffeine available in forms such as capsules and gum.
This is usually the go-to form due to the lack of side effects as opposed to drinking high volumes of fluids or coffee, which would increase the need to urinate as well as potentially cause GI issues.
Pre-workout powders are also a good option, particularly as caffeine would complement the other ingredients in a typical pre-workout, such as creatine, beta-alanine, and amino acids.
Pre Lab Pro is a great example of a pre-workout powder that combines a natural source of caffeine alongside many other ingredients to help boost sports performance and recovery.
Pre Lab Pro combines:
- Caffeine sourced from coffea robusta seeds
- Red beet powder
- Essential vitamins and minerals
These ingredients work together to form an all-round ergogenic aid that supports strength, speed, stamina, endurance, cardio, and recovery. The caffeine and amino acids provide a nootropic-like stimulation for increased energy, focus, and intensity.
Additionally, Pre Lab Pro promotes increase blood flow, sharper focus, and optimal hydration before your workout and beyond.
What more could you want from a pre-workout supplement?!
Caffeine is one of the most popular ergogenic aids on the market, and also one of the most popular ingredients in the world.
Consuming a moderate amount of caffeine pre-workout helps to enhance performance in team sports, high-intensity exercise, endurance, and even strength and power sports.
You can find many different forms of caffeine such as pills, powder, gum, energy drinks and coffee.
It’s recommended that you choose your preferred source of caffeine and start on a low dose to gauge your physical response and avoid any potential side effects or negative effects on performance.
Our top pick is Pre Lab Pro, the most innovative pre-workout formula currently available containing a natural, clean source of caffeine!
- Guest, N.S., VanDusseldorp, T.A., Nelson, M.T. et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and exercise performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 18, 1 (2021).