By Stepfanie Romine
If you find yourself dragging during your exercise routine, a pre-workout caffeine supplement could be just the thing to give you a boost of focus and energy.
Caffeine is the best-known “nootropic," and it has long been used to help people push to the next level in workouts.
But before you take a pre-workout supplement with caffeine, there are a few things you should know.
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Pre-workout caffeine supplements should usually be taken about 30 to 60 minutes before exercise.
Caffeine kicks in quickly, so your morning cup of coffee isn't going to stick around to sustain your midday or after-work sweat session.
“Caffeine appears in the bloodstream within 5 to 10 minutes of consumption and has a peak concentration time of 4 to 80 minutes, meaning it provides its benefits for that amount of time before wearing off," says Samantha Coogan, MS, RD, director of the didactic program in nutrition and dietetics at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
However, you can adjust when you take pre-workout supplements depending on your sensitivity to caffeine, she says. “Some athletes may experience the performance-enhancing benefits when consuming caffeine hours before an event, while others may experience the most benefit right before a workout."*
The amount of caffeine in pre-workout supplements can vary by brand, so it's essential to read labels before choosing one.
"Caffeine must be listed in the ingredient list," says Coogan, adding you should keep in mind that the higher an ingredient is on the list, the more of it there is in that product.
Also, remember that not all companies maintain the same quality and reporting standards when it comes to the concentrations of ingredients in their products:
One scoop of Ladder Pre-Workout delivers about as much caffeine (100mg) as you'd find in an eight-ounce cup of coffee, which studies show is sufficient to reap many of its performance-enhancing benefits, including delayed fatigue and improved endurance, says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., director of fitness and nutrition content at Openfit.*
The possible side effects of taking a pre-workout supplement with caffeine are similar to those associated with drinking coffee, including:
Whether or not you experience side effects depends on your sensitivity to caffeine and, of course, the amount you take, which is why it's generally better to err on the lower side.
Coogan also suggests looking for pre-workout caffeine supplements with shorter ingredient lists. By choosing supplements with fewer ingredients, you might be able to reduce the chances of cross-contamination or decreased potency/purity, she says.
While you can certainly exercise without taking any supplements, research suggests that supplementing with caffeine can boost your exercise performance whether you choose aerobic or power/strength workouts.*
More trials are needed to explain how the impact of caffeine varies from person to person.
During high-intensity cycling, caffeine has been shown to increase power output (while decreasing perceived feelings of exertion).*
Research shows that consuming caffeine before a resistance workout can help boost anaerobic power.*
The authors noted that more research is needed.
Caffeine can also enhance both strength and muscular endurance (i.e., the ability of a muscle or muscle group to contract repeatedly for an extended period of time).*
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.