Are their health and performance benefits to the caffeine hit you get from drinking coffee before you run and should coffee be a part of your pre-run routine? Well, the good news is that the evidence firmly suggests that there are many reasons why this popular hot drink could be just the thing you need to give you a kick start. We take a look at the benefits of coffee for runners and how to get the best results.

Warning – coffee before a run is extremely likely to induce a bowel movement! The first time you try it, allow for this! In fact, there are many people that drink it in plenty of time before a run for exactly this reason. What you don’t want to do is discover this during a marathon, or any other race, that you have trained hard for!

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a stimulant drug (not a banned substance) and drinking coffee before your workout, run, race, session, will speed up the signals from your brain to your body. In causing the nerve cells to speed up, it’s this increase in activity that signals to our bodies to produce adrenaline. Adrenaline – just what you need plenty of when you are toeing the line of an event.

To put it plainly coffee is good for runners in most cases – it gets you ready for action!

Does it Work for all Types of Running?

You may be thinking that pre-run coffee might only work for a sprinter and that the effects may wear off quite quickly but it is actually beneficial to sprinters and endurance runners alike. Hundreds of studies have shown that the ingestion of caffeine before a run/race helps the athlete go further and faster than without. We have even drunk coffee 21 miles into an ultra to get that extra hit of caffeine. Coffee for runners works in most cases – unless you have an aversion to it or can’t drink it for health reasons, or because you don’t like it.

But How Does Coffee for Runners Work?

Caffeine has been shown to increase the circulation of free fatty acids. What this means is that it is glycogen sparing. Great when you want to maintain your glycogen stores for as long as possible during a marathon. Supplementation in the right amount, as we will discuss shortly, can be effective in reducing your perceived exertion. Let’s say a 7 minute mile feels like an 8 minute mile. Now, we all want some of that right?

caffeine for runners

It’s All About the Timing

When should you drink coffee before a race? Should you be knocking back an espresso at the start line? Well, no – and if you are running a 10k, you are not going to feel the benefits as it takes between 45 minutes to an hour for the effects to be felt.

You Need to Drink the Right Amount

The key is not to overdo it. If you do, you are going to end up with the coffee jitters – for those of you that know what they feel like you may feel dizzy, anxious or even suffer from heart palpitations in the worse scenario. You actually need about three to six mg of caffeine per kg of body weight. For a 150 pound (10st, 10lb person) that equates to 12oz of strong coffee.

While some experts suggest 2-3 cups of coffee before a run as the ideal amount of coffee for runners, it is possible that  a single cup will produce the desired results. One cup of strong coffee can be all it takes. Consider how much caffeine is in your particular coffee to get the exact amount but don’t get too hung up on the science. Just know that a decent sized cup of coffee ingested approximately 45 minutes to an hour before the race is going to help you out (unless there is a reason against it).

Research published by the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport suggests that ingesting 5mg of caffeine can improve your 5k time by 1 percent. That’s a significant difference and works out as follows:

  • 24 minute 5k – 14.4 seconds
  • 23 minute 5k – 13.8 seconds
  • 22 minute 5k – 13.2 seconds
  • 21 minute 5k – 12.6 seconds
  • 20 minute 5k – 12 seconds
  • 19 minute 5k – – 11.4 seconds
  • 18 minute 5k – 10.8 seconds
  • 17 minute 5k – 10.2 seconds
  • 16 minute 5k – 9.6 seconds
  • 15 minute 5k – – 9 seconds

If like us, you are a fan of the concept of marginal gains, any small improvements you can make, soon add up.

Don’t Drink Coffee Before Running on an Empty Stomach

If you are prone to loose bowel movements and don’t want to upset your system, you should drink your cup of coffee after your breakfast.

It’s also important to make sure that the first time you ever try coffee before a run is not just before the most important race of your life. If you have been training for a marathon for the best part of six months then happen to read somewhere that caffeine is good the day before your run, don’t risk trying it out.

If you end up with an upset stomach, it’s going to ruin your race. Instead practise it as part of your training. Drink a cup of coffee before a long run or before you go out for a training session to ensure that it agrees with you. Like anything – don’t save it for race day to find out.

The Effects of Coffee Before a Run

A number of people find that drinking coffee loosens things up so to speak. Certainly, if you want to ensure that you get things moving, a coffee is usually a good option however, don’t leave it too late and end up on the start line wishing you had used the toilet when you had the chance. Give it enough time – this is another reason why drinking it an hour before your race/workout/session is a good idea. You get time to use the toilet!

It Can Help After Your Run

Studies have shown that post exercise coffee can also help with recovery with coffee and carbs helping to rebuild glycogen much quicker than with carbs alone. Also, if it’s been a cold and wet race, you can’t beat a nice cup of coffee to warm you up.

What if You Don’t Like Coffee?

Fear not – caffeine is caffeine whether it’s in your coffee or in your favourite foods. It is also found in other products too. Some runners use caffeine shot bloks or other products before a race or they top up during a race such as a marathon or ultra-marathon. It is preferable for to skip the caffeine supplements though and get it from your coffee or tea. It’s the healthier and more reliable option.

Does it Dehydrate You?

No, on the contrary – coffee will not dehydrate- it will aid in hydration. Just don’t drink too much or you will be needing the toilet more frequently than you would like.

What About a Caffeine Fast?

Hush now we say – a caffeine fast. No thanks, but does it help?

Some people believe that when tapering for a marathon, if you cut out or cut down on your coffee in the days before, you will get an additional kick from the pre-race coffee on the day. We are not sure about this, and there is little evidence that supports this theory. Besides – why deprive yourself of one of life’s small pleasures, especially when you have probably cut down on everything else like bad food and alcohol.

Is it worth the bad mood and increased anxiety in the lead up to a race that is making you nervous enough already? Another theory is, that unless you try a caffeine fast in your training, you should not alter your habits – what if the lack of caffeine, followed by a sudden hit has a negative impact? If you are going to try – we recommend trying it as part of your training.

Like anything, our advice is based on the research available to us and our own experiences. We are not medical advisors and if there is some reason why you should not drink caffeine then, please don’t. Above all else, if you are going to suddenly start drinking coffee to enhance your performance, don’t try it out before an important race.

Want to try coffee that is blended specifically for runners? Try Boostr before a run or workout and maximise your performance.

coffee for runners