Coffee. Espresso, latte, Starbucks, American, whatever, as long as it has caffeine. Some people can’t live without it–you know who you are, drinking entire pots every day, lining up and growling in line at the local coffee joints, itching to get your hands on a cup. Others have it occasionally, only after lunch say, a delicate espresso, pinky extended. Some people drink it occasionally, or not at all, but we’re all familiar with its effects. You light up, energy flows through you, you can become almost manic (full disclosure: I’m writing while under the influence of caffeine right now, a shot of espresso dumped unceremoniously in my Shakeology smoothie). Depending on your tolerance you might get energized for an hour or two, or not even register the jolt, but everybody knows how powerful a kick of caffeine can be. But what if we try to combine that boost of energy with a workout? Harness that energy so that we workout harder, longer, faster? Is that a good idea? What would the effect be on our system?
First of all, let’s get something straight. This blog post does not and is not meant to address extreme loads of caffeine intake. When we speak of drinking coffee before a workout, we’re talking about a regular cup. We’re not talking about drinking the whole pot. Doing so can lead to health problems, from spiking your body’s insulin levels, causing you to become insulin resistant and then hampering your ability to manage your glucose levels, all bad things which start shoving you in the direction of Type II diabetes. So no, don’t drink the whole pot. More is not better.
Now, what can caffeine do for you other than ‘give you more energy’? The best part is that it has been shown to increase lipolysis (fat mobilization) and fat oxidation (fat burning). This effect is more pronounced on lean folk, due perhaps to their increased sensitivity to fat stimulation. This means that if you combine coffee with a diet or exercise (or both!) you get a fat burning effect.
Coffee has also been shown to increase energy expenditure. Rats given 2-20mg/kg increased their spontaneous activity (known as NEAT in humans–Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) and can generate a sizable amount of energy burning. Basically, they got hyper, ran around, and burnt calories.
Finally, it’s simply well known that caffeine can help increase your workout performance. Drinking coffee before a workout can decreases your fatigue levels (there’s that energy burst), causes more fat to be burned (hello lipolysis!), and in general allow you to workout harder. And if you’re working out first thing in the morning, the benefit can be enormous, in that it can help you jump out of that sluggish waking up state right into attack mode.
So should you take a shot of espresso before a workout? I think the answer quite clearly points to: YES. Now, whether this works for you will depend on your personal philosophy on coffee, whether you like the taste, whether you’re already diabetic, etc. It can help mobilize fat for burning, can increase energy, can delay fatigue, and help you burn more calories. Again, this is in moderate doses; high or extremely high doses have been shown to mess with your insulin and glucose management systems, so please, practice moderation. Also, take that stuff straight. If you dump a load of sugar and cream in there, you’re not doing yourself any favors.