Exploring caffeine 30 minutes before a workout

This is a guest post by Tim Hanrahan, Editor-In-Chief at Gowhere Hip Hop.

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Earlier this summer, I was put on to a pre-workout strategy that I have since adopted: drinking coffee 30 minutes before a workout.

A friend had suggested I try it, knowing that I love coffee and play basketball when I can. He provided this Men’s Fitness link to kickstart my own research, and even this month, I later found a recent, more scientific and detailed article on BodyBuilding.com.

Heading into the test, I made drinking a cup of coffee 30 minutes before a workout a daily habit (or a daily habit on days I workout). I didn’t have any data yet, but I felt internally that it was giving me an extra boost. These last 10 days were the first time I decided to track it.

 

Some background:

I’m an active exerciser and a daily coffee consumer already. I always have 1 cup of coffee with my breakfast or by lunch at the very latest. I usually have cup #2 between 3 and 4 in the afternoon and proceed to do a daily 20 minute stretching routine, followed by a 30 minute pilates routine at home (3-4 days/week). This was a great first week to track the caffeine’s effect because I was preparing for a 3-on-3 basketball tournament and played basketball 5 times in 7 days. In fact, the experiment began on Sunday, August 17th when I was inspired to go to the gym late that night and shoot around. I came straight from a movie and did not have a chance to drink coffee before going. Given the situation, and the general fact it was late at night, I felt extremely sluggish.

For the purposes of this test, I consumed the same two brands of coffee K-Cups (Starbucks Breakfast Blend & Dunkin Donuts Original Blend), each containing 150 mg of caffeine per cup.

 

The data:

I used both Apple Health & QuantXLaFont’s free DIY Tracker to record my caffeine intake and my observations of its effect. Both were conveniently on my smartphone and the DIY Tracker allowed me to customize my observations and essentially create my own rating system.

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A graph of my caffeine intake for the last 7 days of my test, using Apple Health.
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I manually inputed the data on Apple Health while I waited for each cup of coffee to brew.

The graph and data already illustrate a few takeaways. One of the more general ones was that these were the first couple of weeks I upped my coffee intake to 3 cups/day. I have been steady at 2 cups/day for the past year-plus. I started to feel I needed a morning/afternoon/evening routine on days I played basketball at night.

That made it easy to visualize when I played basketball. I usually had that 3rd cup before playing just after 8pm at night. Over the weekend, I only had 1 cup of coffee each day. But one of those days was our 3-on-3 tournament that started at 10:30 in the morning.

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My custom survey to rate how big a boost the caffeine had on my workout, using the QXL DIY Tracker.

I made sure to be diligent and record my observation after I finished my workout using the DIY Tracker. It was easy to tell if I still felt sluggish, had just enough boost to maintain a sufficient energy level, or best case scenario: a very high boost where I had an extra hop in my step and an extra level of mental awareness on the court.

I knew going into it that the sluggish workouts would be few and far between. The coffee at least gave me enough of a boost to start drinking it consistently heading into the test. After my first “Very High Boost” day, I was really curious how often coffee would give me this best case scenario.

Here are the results, recorded into a Google Spreadsheet in real-time via the DIY Tracker.

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The automatic Google Spreadsheet of response results from the DIY Tracker.

 

The Takeaways:

The results proved encouraging! 3 of the 4 times I drank coffee before playing basketball I experienced a very high boost. I noticed I had an extra spring in my step and was able to see the floor and make quicker decisions comapred to the 1 off-day I didn’t have a very high boost during this period.

(Beginner’s Tip: If you try this yourself before basketball, make sure to hydrate yourself even more than usual in between games. Your body needs to adjust to the caffeine, which naturally makes you more dehydrated. After a few days of this, you shouldn’t feel extra dehydrated but take it from me, I learned the hard way!)

Additionally, I did pilates after my mid-afternoon cup of coffee 5 times in these 10 days and experienced only 1 day where I still felt sluggish. This one off day helped me realize that coffee isn’t the end all, be all solution to having a quality workout. In other words, it was a pleasant reminder that you still have to get reasonable sleep and eat well to have a quality workout no matter what. I remember vividly not having those basic factors fulfilled on this particular day.

However, the results also gave me a number, albeit in a small sample size. 80% of the time I’ll feel a noticable boost in my workout (basketball, pilates, stretching) thanks to consuming a cup of coffee 30 minutes before. Again, I felt it was helping me internally all summer, but now I had a high success rate to keep me even more disciplined to have that pre-workout coffee.

 

Looking ahead:

From here, I intend to continue to gather data, track how much caffeine I consume each day, and add variables to arrive at even more concrete conclusions. For instance: how does the amount of caffeine in the pre-workout cup of coffee effect my workout. The one day I consumed 180 mg of caffeine was due to a large Dunkin Donuts coffee I bought on the run. I noticed a very high boost in playing basketball 30 minutes later.

What do you guys think? Is there anything more you would like to see added to my test? I personally believe in the science behind it (if you missed the links in the intro, I suggest you give those a read) but perhaps there’s an ingredient here that it’s all mental. You know, like when the TuneSquad drank “MJ’s Secret Stuff” at halftime. 🙂

Let me know your thoughts and suggestions on Twitter @QuantSelfLaFont or @TimHanrahan10 and perform your own experiment like this by simply using Apple Health (already installed on your iPhone) and your own custom response survey via the QuantXLaFont DIY Tracker.

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