Should I Drink Coffee Before a Run? 

Ugh. Your alarm is blaring and the sun hasn’t even come up yet. You’re supposed to go for a run this morning, but you slept badly the night before. Maybe you’ll energize yourself with some coffee before your run. Is this a good idea?

Yes, you can drink coffee before a run if you’re starved for energy. The caffeine in coffee can boost your physical performance. It’s recommended you drink coffee an hour before your run, ingesting no more than five milligrams. Post-run coffee is also beneficial in accelerating your recovery.  

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about drinking coffee before a run, including what you might experience while running and how much coffee is appropriate. Make sure you keep reading! 

Should You Drink Coffee Before a Run?

You start most mornings with coffee. After all, who doesn’t? Yet on those mornings when you go for a run, you might gulp down a protein smoothie instead of your usual cup o’ joe. You worry about the dreaded caffeine crash.

While the caffeine crash will happen eventually, lots of research out there proves that the caffeine in coffee can augment your running performance rather than hinder it.

According to Scientific American, caffeine stimulates your central nervous system. This can reduce the amount of pain your body perceives when under the effects of caffeine. Further, you don’t feel like you’re exerting yourself physically as much as you are. Your rate of fatigue decreases as well.

Mentally, you’ll feel sharper and more focused. The Scientific American article mentions that your body can even begin burning fat for energy after consuming caffeine. Not only is this useful from a weight loss perspective but burning fat can take longer to deplete your energy. 

Altogether, you feel like a running superstar after having your morning cup of coffee. 

That said, when you drink your coffee can make a difference between feeling awesome and maybe still feeling a tad sluggish once you hit the running trail. According to a study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise from 2014, the ideal time to consume caffeine is 45 minutes to an hour before you start running.

Although the effects of caffeine can seem near-instant at times, the stimulant needs time to get to your bloodstream. By waiting to run 45 minutes after coffee consumption, you’ll reap the most benefits of caffeine.

Make sure you don’t wait longer than an hour though. If you do, your body will already begin to process the caffeine and it will be less potent.

By the way, don’t feel like you’re limited to only drinking coffee to get your dose of caffeine, because you’re not! You can still enjoy your pre-run morning smoothie by whipping coffee into it. Caffeinated products from toothpaste to coffee butter will also give you that jolt without the need to sip on a cup o’ joe. 

How Much Coffee Is Appropriate to Drink Before a Run?

Besides the timing of when you drink your coffee, the amount matters too. If you consume too little, then you won’t feel the cognitive and physical effects of caffeine. That will make you think that drinking coffee before a run is useless when it’s just the opposite.

Too much coffee though can lead to a variety of side effects that are not conducive to running. You could experience heart palpitations, which are made all the scarier when your heart is already racing from physical activity.

Your anxiety can increase, reducing your ability to focus and push yourself further. You can also feel dizzy, in which case running is a bad idea.

What’s the perfect amount of caffeine to feel energized without dizziness? You don’t need much, only three to five milligrams of caffeine.

For comparison’s sake, a six-fluid-ounce cup of coffee contains 75 milligrams of caffeine and an eight-fluid-ounce cup has 95 milligrams. Even eight fluid ounces of tea have 26 milligrams of caffeine.  

A 2014 study from Sports Medicine confirms that all you need to run well is five milligrams of caffeine. The researchers state the following: “Low caffeine doses (1) do not alter the peripheral whole-body responses to exercise; (2) improve vigilance, alertness, and mood and cognitive processes during and after exercise; and (3) are associated with few, if any, side effects.” 

Can You Drink Coffee on an Empty Stomach?

This morning, you overslept. You usually like to have breakfast before you run, but there’s just no time. You can quickly gulp down coffee on the drive to the trail though. Is drinking coffee on an empty stomach advisable or should you wait until you have something to eat?

That depends on the person. If you’re a regular coffee drinker, then without any food in your belly, you could feel fine after drinking your morning cup of coffee or even after a second cup (although we wouldn’t recommend you have more than that!).

For those who are less frequent coffee drinkers or those without a very high caffeine tolerance, you might notice that you’re jittery and your stomach feels awful if you have coffee on an empty stomach. You might also develop a headache and you’ll have to urinate more often. 

If you experience these side effects when on a run, we recommend cutting it short. In the future, don’t drink coffee without some food in your system first. The above side effects shouldn’t occur, and if they do, the severity should be less. 

Won’t Drinking Coffee Before a Run Dehydrate You? 

As you sweat during a run, your body loses electrolytes that you must restore. You have concerns about further dehydrating yourself by drinking coffee and then going for a run. Does the caffeine in your cup o’ joe cause dehydration?

Nope! This is a myth that we’re happy to disprove. The journal PLoS One in 2014 did a study involving 50 participants. All were men and regular coffee drinkers, ingesting up to six cups of coffee daily. 

The participants engaged in two different trials that lasted three days apiece. The trials required the participants to drink four servings of coffee, and each serving was 200 milliliters. Sometimes the coffee was diluted with water and in other instances, it contained four milligrams of caffeine. 

The participants were on a controlled diet and engaged in some physical activity, although it’s not clear from the study how much.

After reviewing the total body weights and plasma of the participants, the PLoS One researchers deduced that the participants did not lose total body water “from beginning to end of trial and no differences between trials.” 

Since the participants retained their respective amounts of body water, they were at no risk of dehydration. You won’t be either! 

What about a Post-Run Coffee? Is That a Good Idea?

If you’d rather save that coveted cup of coffee for a post-run reward, that’s an option. You could even theoretically have a small amount of coffee before your run and then drink more later, but that all depends on your caffeine tolerance.

Another report from Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, this time published in 2013, involved a double-blind study. The participants were all athletes that ran for a 15-kilometer race. Some of the participants ingested a placebo and the others had six milligrams or kilograms of their body weight in caffeine. 

The study suggests that consuming caffeine can improve your recovery rates after physical activity and can even reduce bodily inflammation. So go ahead, treat yourself to a coffee after your run!

Does Drinking Coffee Regularly Before a Run Reduce Its Effectiveness?

You’ve decided to try drinking coffee before you run and you’re really impressed with the results. You feel great and you’ve even logged faster lap times. However, you can’t help but worry that what goes up will come crashing down.

Does drinking coffee regularly before a run eventually make it less effective? According to a report in the Journal of Applied Physiology, no.

The study involved 40 participants, all cyclists. They went through timed trials for up to 30 minutes of physical activity at a time. Some of the participants only consumed water, others ingested six milligrams of caffeine per body mass, and others still were on a caffeine placebo.

The caffeinated participants were split into three groups based on their coffee consumption. The low caffeine group consumed no more than 101 milligrams of caffeine daily. The moderate group was capped at 183 milligrams per day and the high caffeine group ingested up to 585 milligrams of caffeine a day.

The researchers wanted to see if the group that consumed the most caffeine also experienced the worst performance drops and vice-versa for the least caffeinated group. 

That’s not exactly what happened. As the report says: “Low, moderate, and high caffeine consumers showed similar absolute and relative improvements in cycling time-trial performance following acute supplementation of 6 mg/kg body mass caffeine. Performance effects of acute caffeine were not influenced by the level of habitual coffee consumption, suggesting that high habitual caffeine intake does not negate the benefits of acute caffeine supplementation.”

There you have it. You can drink coffee to your heart’s content and you should still feel its effects during your run.

Final Thoughts 

Drinking coffee before a run, ideally with food in your system, can make you mentally focused and physically ready to take on some of your toughest running challenges yet. Make sure you drink your coffee about 45 minutes before your run and consume no more than five milligrams of caffeine for best results. Good luck! 

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Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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