Part 2: Takeaways from pre-workout caffeine’s effects on performance

Post by: Tim Hanrahan

About 6 weeks ago, I came to a realization. I had been trying to drink coffee 30 minutes before a workout based on some hearsay and research to confirm its positive effect… but I had never been tracking my pre-workout caffeine’s effects on performance. I thought I was feeling good, but sometimes I didn’t really feel any change. How can I know for sure? And because I do different forms of workouts at different times of the day, what’s the best combination of variables for the highest boost?

That’s what I was intrigued to find out and I tracked and reported my initial takeaways at the end of August. The summary: I found that drinking coffee 30 minutes before a workout does in fact give me a boost, but it varied between how much of a boost it gave me. Going forward into September, I wanted to hone these results in even more and test a few more variables.

Below is a breakdown of my process, results, and new takeaways.

 

Process:

I again used Apple Health to track the quantity and frequency of caffeine consumption. By the end of my last tracking period in August, I had become a 3-cup a day coffee drinker, primarily using my trusty Kuerig and K-cups that contained 150mg of caffeine.

I also used QXL’s own DIY Tracker to gauge my feelings after a workout and analyze my performance. I was extremely disciplined to record my results and in general reflect about my fitness. I was of course hoping for that “Very High Boost” and the results began to show a pattern after another month tracking my progress.

pre-workout caffeine's effects on performance
My custom survey to rate how big a boost the caffeine had on my workout, using the QXL DIY Tracker.

 

Results:

As part of my initial tracking, I made sure to note when I was having coffee before working or with breakfast in the morning. It was good background information to have, but after 4 weeks, I began to understand my daily routine and didn’t feel the need track these instances. This decluttered my data to only show the times of my workout routines and my boost rating from there, noting on the side the days I had 2 or 3 cups of coffee.

Having said that, here’s a look at my data of my reflections on the caffeine’s effects, illustrated through the DIY Tracker’s automatic recordings to a Google Doc.

pre-workout caffeine's effects on performance
An overview of my September data, focusing more on just the caffeine intake before a workout.

 

Takeaways:

I believe I have found my sweet spot.

When only focusing on my desired “Very High Boosts”, the common element was that it came after a 3rd coffee, before I played basketball at night around 8pm. During these instances, I felt a noticable change multiple times. I was playing with a sharp attention span and ability to make quick decisions, essential for being a point guard. I play recreationally in competitive leagues and had some of my best games in the past 2 months with these pre-workout variables lined up. In fact, drinking a 3rd cup of coffee 30 minutes before playing basketball led to an 89% chance of getting the optimal “Very High” boost.

To also arrive at this conclusion, I compared my “3rd cup of coffee” variable to my performance playing at the same time (8pm) but having only 2 cups of coffees during the day (1 of which, 30 minutes before). I also included my performance after doing a Pilates workout, which was almost always after my 2nd cup of coffee during the day. I noticed there was a high propensity for a boost, whether slight or solid 79% of the time, but only the optimal “Very High” boost 14% of the time.

Conversely, I compared the boosts to a few morning pilates workouts I did during this time period too. I failed to really feel more than a slight boost, providing the first piece of evidence to me that I’m just not a morning person (as my routine also dictates now). This inspires me now to research… What is the cummulative effect of caffeine throughout the day as more and more is consumed?

Finally, I was also able to quickly answer one of my other questions from back in August. I wanted to test the variable of consuming more caffeine than usual during the 30 minute pre-workout period and see how that would affect my performance. I already felt comfortable with my K-cup amount, but I had to see if even more would be even better.

pre-workout caffeine's effects on performance
I tried a large Dunkin Donuts coffee (20 fl. oz, 244mg caffeine) because I had to play in a tournament in the morning. I felt the jitters and it affected my game. Too much caffeine?

Au contraire. It actually made my performance worse. The added caffeine made me too antsy and anxious. I actually was conscious of quick, edgy, and fidgety movements that translated poorly on the court. I played like I was trying to do much and go too fast instead of letting the game come to me. In basketball, just like in consuming caffeine, or life in general, it’s all about finding that balance. I’m glad it only took me a couple of different gamedays (and losses) to keep my caffeine intake in moderation. Sometimes it means going too far the other way to better hone in the optimal place along the spectrum.

It took 6 weeks, and some untracked experiences before that, to A.) confirm my research and hypothesis that caffeine 30 minutes before a workout positively impacts my performance, and B.) find the right balance of how much caffeine both at the time and throughout the day yields my optimal boost for best performance. It’s a gratifying point in my journey: to understand myself even more to gain a better chance to achieve my goals on the court. That’s what QS is all about and that’s what you can do too. Everyone’s different, so you can create the DIY Tracker to help you follow whatever passion you want to pursue too.

pre-workout caffeine's effects on performance
This was me, but playing basketball. This could be YOU: rock climbing or _____________.
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