Is Coffee Good For Your Running?


Caffeine is one of the most widely researched areas of sports performance, justly so as for many it is the number one choice of a pick-me-up outside of the running track as well.

Some sports doctors have concluded that taking caffeine pills before running is the number one performance enhancing product runners can take before a race – that doesn’t end you on the black list of WADA, that is.

So, if you’re wondering if having your regular cup of Joe (or caffeine pills) before running is bad, by now you probably know what we’ve found.

Still doubting all this? Here are the benefits that caffeine brings to your training:

  1. Mental alertness and improved state of mind

We all know what an effect coffee has on us in the morning – we are ready to face the day and maybe just a little less cranky – and research shows that caffeine actually does boost our mental alertness, boost our mood and gives us that little something that makes us want to run hard.

This is good news if you are a morning trainer up against a hard speed session and you struggle to get to the track, or if you train in the evenings and have a hard time finding the energy to leave work stress behind.

Another interesting scientific finding is that caffeine lowers a runner’s perception of effort, which makes faster paces feel easier than they actually are.

And it only gets better: caffeine has a positive effect on endorphins in the brain, making them concentrate. These are the same hormones that give you the famous runner’s high! 

  1. Increases your body’s ability to burn fat while running

For marathon runners, perhaps the most important benefit of caffeine is that it helps your body to use fat as a fuel source, thereby conserving glycogen.

While running a marathon, glycogen is crucial for the painful last 10km, or as we know it, the actual beginning of the marathon. 

  1. Increases speed and improves your power

Caffeine has benefits in decreasing your reaction time and improves your coordination.

Shorter reaction time is no doubt beneficial to 100m and 200m sprinters, but there’s also help for longer distances.

Better neuromuscular coordination means more efficient running – great for anyone tackling the long run.

Are there any reasons why it’s bad to drink coffee before running?

The number one arguments for avoiding coffee before a run are due to beliefs of coffee’s diuretic properties and thus negative effect on hydration levels.

While the argument is correct, exercise actually counterbalances the negative effects.

In a recent scientific review, researchers from the University of Connecticut found that, contrary to popular beliefs, caffeine consumption does not result in:

  1. water-electrolyte imbalances
  2. hyperthermia
  3. reduced exercise-heat tolerance.

Here’s the deal:

A runner can safely have up to five regular cups of coffee (equivalent of about 550 milligrams of caffeine) without there being an effect on hydration levels.

How much caffeine before a running workout?

The same study found that 5 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight would be an ideal supplementation level.

What does that mean? A 68kg runner would supplement with 340 milligrams of caffeine, which is about 500ml of drip-brewed coffee.

Most health organizations recommend no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, so you may want to save some of your morning Joe for the afternoon, in case you train in the evening.

Next time you’re not feeling up for the run you have to do in the afternoon, try some coffee first!

Matt Fox

Matt Fox

Matt Fox is the coach at Fox Running, assisting runners of all levels get the most out of their running. He specialises in assisting people with busy lifestyles and many commitments. Find out more here
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