If you are a regular at the gym, no doubt you’ll have noticed the coffee cups, pre-workout and energy drinks that people bring with them.
It’s pretty certain that people who like to train also like to feel energised. But which drink is best?
We give you advice, based on scientific research, so that you don’t have to spend hours doing the reading yourself.
Firstly, we need to clarify:
- We are talking about caffeinated coffee not decaf
- Pre workout is a really broad term and every company has their ‘secret sauce’. When we mention pre workout we mean both powdered form and ready to drink.
We will look at whether coffee is a good source of caffeine and whether the extras you commonly see in pre-workout are worth the extra cost and contamination risk.
Caffeine from coffee:
When studying caffeine, researchers will mostly opt for caffeine anhydrous. It provides ultimate accuracy and makes their study designs full proof. Yet, athletes- , the very people this research is aimed at - continue to choose coffee for their caffeine hit.
Is this science led, socially driven or simply personal preference? Most likely all three.
There is a consensus that caffeine from coffee does perform and improve time to exhaustion tests, time trial tests and also decreases Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), a commonly used marker of exercise difficulty.
When comparing caffeine from coffee to caffeine anhydrous the results are a little confounding. Research is thin but some scientists have said that it is just as good as caffeine powder (for increasing aerobic performance) and others have been met with mixed results.
What was pointed out by University of Lancashire researchers was that study design was poor in the latter. Overall, more work is to be completed.
From our knowledge, if you are getting the right amount of caffeine through your coffee there really shouldn’t be much difference.
Why athletes choose coffee:
The real reason why athletes continue to choose coffee for their caffeine is what ISN'T in their drink.
“Coffee was my first choice for a pre workout, I knew exactly what I was putting in my body and it allowed me to sustain my energy levels during long training sessions."
- Patrick M.
Pre workout is an umbrella term and there isn’t a set recipe. Because of this we are going to look at the effectiveness of the most commonly added ingredients.
Branch chain Amino Acids:
There is no doubt that BCAA’s (in particular Leucine) assist muscle protein synthesis and therefore muscle growth. However if you are ingesting enough dietary protein (I hope you are) then there is no additional benefit to this in your pre workout drink.
“Because they’re present in high levels notably in animal protein, supplementation is unnecessary…”
Despite this BCAA drinks remain very popular in the CrossFit community.🤷♂️.
Famous for its inclusion in the energy drink Redbull, it has become associated with energy because of this. However, according to the head researcher at Examine.com (definitely worth checking out if you’re curious about dietary supplements) Kurtis Frank that is not the case.
“If anything, it may be mildly suppressive when it comes to the neurological system. It may have been added to energy drinks initially since it may cause a glucose spike to be more rounded. Less spike means more time until it normalizes in the blood, thereby mitigating the sugar crash.”
So, what we have here is an additional ingredient designed to mitigate the excess sugar commonly found in energy drinks and pre workouts. Sugar certainly isn’t the enemy but is it necessary, probably not.
It is very common to find a cocktail of vitamins within ready to drink and pre-workout blends. Vitamins in your diet are important but a ‘more is better’ approach is redundant.
American researchers looked at additional vitamin supplementation on common health markers and found no evidence that it made any difference when a balanced diet was consumed.
A repeating theme is to have a balanced diet, which I would hope that our readers are striving for. Having worked with some the UKs top dietitians we know that a ‘food first’ approach is favoured and additional supplementation is there purely to supplement you if circumstances dictate it and not dominate your diet.
This is not an exhaustive list but the three most commonly found additives to pre-workout. What we can clearly see is that caffeine is king for pre workout and the major additives are not providing you more of a boost.
Power Press was set up because we were tired of supplement companies over inflating the effectiveness of their products and pumping them full of sugar. Why would you want a fizzy blue pre workout when you can get everything you need from coffee?.