The Healthiest Way to Get Caffeine Before Exercising
Any dedicated gym-goer or sports enthusiast is always looking for ways to boost their performance, and one of the most widely used – and most effective – supplements is caffeine. Here, we look at the healthiest way to get caffeine before exercising to make sure you’re doing it right.
What is caffeine?
Before we talk about healthy ways of ingesting caffeine, let’s take a moment to think about what caffeine is and where it comes from.
Caffeine is a psychoactive drug. That puts it in the same category as substances like cocaine and amphetamines, but unlike these substances, it is legal and unregulated in most countries. In fact, it is the most widely consumed psychoactive drug in the world.
Caffeine is found in plants, where it functions as a powerful pesticide. In its pure state, it is a bitter alkaline powder, but the majority of people probably ingest most of their caffeine from tea or coffee; other common sources include energy drinks and chocolate.
What effect does it have on the body and how does it work?
Caffeine affects our bodies in several ways. Most coffee lovers will be familiar with caffeine’s ability to wake us up in the morning and reduce drowsiness. It has also been shown to improve alertness as well as improving our mood.
In terms of the benefits of caffeine before exercising, it increases stamina and reduces muscle pain, allowing us to work out for longer. Caffeine also helps our bodies recover after exercise and aids the burning of fat.
With all these effects, it’s no wonder that it has become such a popular exercise supplement, but how does it work?
In simple terms and without going to deep into the science, caffeine works by stimulating the central nervous system, increasing heart rate and boosting blood flow.
It blocks adenosine receptors in the brain, suppressing the signals that cause you to feel tired, and also boosts the production of dopamine and adrenaline, helping you work harder – and feel good while you are doing it.
Healthy ways to get your pre-exercise caffeine fix
With all these benefits, caffeine is the ideal way to optimize your gym sessions. So what are your options? Let’s have a look at some of the most popular ways of taking on caffeine.
One of the most readily available sources of caffeine is coffee. Caffeine content in coffee can vary enormously, but as a rough guideline, a regular 8oz cup of regular brewed coffee contains about 100-200mg of caffeine. An espresso shot usually contains about 70-80mg.
For an even stronger hit, you can buy special high-caffeine coffee beans or high-caffeine K-Pods to deliver an extra kick before the start of your routine.
The good thing about coffee is that it is an inherently healthy drink. It is full of antioxidants, and in the long term, is known to help combat a whole swathe of health issues.
If you drink coffee before working out or doing sport, be aware that coffee has a natural diuretic effect (that means it makes you need to urinate more). With this in mind, remember to take on plenty of fluids to make sure you stay properly hydrated.
Of course, how healthy your coffee is depends a lot on the style of coffee you are drinking. There is a big difference between drinking a plain black brewed coffee and a bucket-sized caramel latte from Starbucks since the latter is likely to be full of sugar!
On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with adding milk to your coffee – the extra carbs and proteins in there will also benefit your workout.
Tea is another healthy option. Again, as with coffee, it is packed with antioxidants. Epigallocatechin, in particular, is known to help burn fat.
The main problem with tea is that it doesn’t contain as much caffeine as coffee – in fact, a cup of tea probably only contains half the caffeine of a similar-sized coffee.
This means that, while certainly one of the healthiest ways of delivering caffeine to your system, you are going to need to drink a lot of cups of tea to achieve the desired effect.
· Energy drinks
Energy drinks are another popular source of caffeine. The problem here is that many of them also contain a lot of added sugar, making them a much less healthy option.
If you choose energy drinks for your pre-workout boost, try to choose sugar-free ones since they are a much healthier choice.
· Caffeine pills
An efficient – and inexpensive – way of ingesting caffeine before sports is simply to take a caffeine pill. The advantages are that they a calorie-free and allow you to control the dose very precisely, unlike when drinking coffee, tea or energy drinks.
On the downside, taking caffeine in pill form means you will be missing out on the added health benefits associated with drinking coffee or tea. If you are not used to caffeine, caffeine pills can also make you feel jittery.
When to take caffeine and how much to take
If you want to benefit fully from caffeine when you hit the gym, you should also be aware of when to take it and the correct dose to take to maximize the effect.
When you ingest caffeine, it begins to be absorbed quickly and you soon start to feel an effect. However, the benefits to physical performance peak around 60-90 minutes after ingestion, meaning you should be taking your dose of caffeine about an hour before you start exercising.
How big should that dose be? Most people will obtain the strongest effect from about 200-300mg of caffeine. This means drinking two regular 8oz cups of coffee or taking the relevant dose in pill form an hour before you do sport will give you the greatest benefit.
There is some evidence that taking too large a dose before physical exercise may actually have a negative effect on your performance, so don’t overdo it.
Different options, some healthier than others
There are a couple of options for a caffeine fix before the gym – so what is the healthiest way to get caffeine before exercising? Drinking tea would be a healthy choice – but you would need to drink about four cups to have any effect.
Pill are convenient and efficient, allowing you to dose accurately and this this is certainly an attractive method.
However, if you are a coffee lover, drinking two cups about an hour before the gym will help improve your performance – and you will also receive the additional health benefits of coffee rather than just the caffeine. Just don’t spoil it by adding a mountain of sugar!