Coffee vs Pre Workout: Which is Best For More Explosive Energy?

Image showing a hot mug of coffee n a table

Surely, if we're even remotely serious about training, coffee is never going to cut it, right?

I mean, the name “pre workout supplement” tells you all you need to know. Or does it…

As it turns out, pre-workout powders may not be as essential as the guy from the supplement stores tells you they are.

In our coffee vs pre workout comparison, we separate truth from myth, by seeking to uncover who each drink is best suited for, and who should give it a miss.

Can Coffee Replace Your Pre Workout?

With an average cup of coffee containing almost 100 mg of caffeine, replacing your pre workout with a freshly made hot brew, is a perfectly reasonable decision.

You may not get all the jazz that pre workout powders offer, but with enough caffeine pumping through your veins, whether you go for a quick Espresso or a creamy cafe latte, you can be pretty sure of a nice energy boost.

Our Rating

Product

Strength

Price

1

The Best Pre-Workout

2

Best Coffee For Training

3

Strongest Pre-Workout Powder

4

Strongest Coffee

But the most significant thing about coffee is that it usually has just as much if not more caffeine than specialist workout supplements does. And if you're prepared to brew it yourself, a mug of coffee is likely cheaper than a scoop of pre workout powder.

Here's the typical amount of caffeine in the coffee of various brewing methods:

  • Drip or Filter: 115-175mg
  • French Press or Plunger: 80-135mg
  • Percolated: 64-272mg
  • Boiled (Greek or Turkish): 160-240mg

Some brands run even stronger still. The notorious Death Wish coffee, for example, delivers an intense 59 mg of caffeine per fluid ounce. Using a conservative small 8 oz cup for demonstration, you'd get just over 350mg of caffeine — enough to rival even the strongest of pre workout supplements. 

Image of a hot mug of coffee next to some coffee beans

3 Benefits Of Drinking More Coffee

Better Fat Burning

Take a look at any popular fat burning supplement, and I can almost guarantee caffeine will be in there somewhere. Being a natural fat burner, it is one of the few ingredients that we can be quite sure is doing their job.

So, how much fat can you burn?

Let's take a look. One study shows that a dose as reasonable as 200mg can increase metabolic rate by between 3-11%. The average increase in the volunteers was 7%, which is not too shabby at all.

It's worth noting though, that if you're a regular coffee drinker, there's a good chance you're already getting this metabolism-boosting benefit. In which case, you could either drink more coffee or a take a pre-workout powder, which may have other fat burning ingredients in its formula like CLA.

Image of a slim woman measuring her waist

Significantly Boost Physical performance

As the most commonly used psychoactive substance around the globe, caffeine naturally stimulates the CNS, which increases levels of adrenaline in the bloodstream, to prepare your body for hard physical training and exertion.

By activating the central nervous system, more fat cells are broken down than usual, and as a primary energy source within the body, fats can be used to fuel your training efficiently. How about that for fat burning?

As for your performance in the gym, an analysis of 40 independent studies, suggests that you can expect a performance increase of around 12%. The best results, however, were enjoyed by those doing endurance-activities, rather than short-term exercise.

While caffeine may not do a lot for your 1rm strength, performing extra sets, whether it be biceps curls or squats, becomes less challenging for the body. This is great for your gains seen as, up to a point, more sets equal more muscle growth.

Image of an athlete running

May Decrease Type 2 Diabetes Risk

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, caffeine actually raises blood sugar levels shortly after consumption. However, it is also brimming with goodness in the form of antioxidants, which can significantly decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes over the long term.

And long-term prevention is what's most important.

A study of over 40,000 participants found that those who drank at least 3 cups of coffee or tea per day, were 42% less likely to develop diabetes than those who did not.

Similarly, one study showed a 67% decreased risk in those who drank, wait for it... a whopping 12 cups of coffee per day. It's worth noting though, that this is just one example and as the authors of the paper noted ‘more work is needed' to understand why coffee has such a positive effect.

Are Pre-Workout Powders Better?

When we're deciding if anything is better than something else, context is critical if we want to make the right decision. Do you think it's' better to get your fat from nuts, or from the fast food place down the road?

It's definitely from the nuts, right?

For most people, nuts are indeed a better choice. But if you're allergic to nuts, they are just about the worst possible fat source on the entire planet. You see how context is critical?

Ok, let's move one. For gaining muscle mass and having the most productive training session possible, we definitely believe that pre workouts supplements are superior to coffee.

When it boils down to it if caffeine was the only ingredient that mattered, then pre-workouts wouldn't even exist, and we'd all be pouring coffee into our shaker bottles like mad people. But apparently, that's just not the case, as you're about to find out.

Image of a bodybuilder drinking a shake in the gym

Here's why Pre Workouts Could Be Better

Quicker Muscle Recovery

While energy is definitely the name of the game in the pre-workout world, nobody can deny the importance of recovery for muscle growth and sports performance.
Do you think powerlifting records were ever broken while the lifter was nursing sore muscles?

I highly doubt it.

And while coffee can easily give us an equivalent energy boost, it can't provide us with muscle repairing ingredients like BCAAs and citrulline.

The most compelling advantage that pre workout powders offer us is that they combine many of the top ingredients into one mixture, which makes it much more convenient than taking 4 or 5 different supplements.

Better Muscle Pumps

Whether you're willing to admit it or not, we all love the Arnie-acclaimed muscle pump. There's no better feeling in the gym than blood racing though your muscles, veins popping out of your biceps, and fire raging through your quads on leg extensions.

But being a natural vasoconstrictor, caffeine temporarily limits blood flow around the body, which reduces the intensity of the pump. Based on this fact, coffee is just about the worst pre-workout drink for getting a pump.

However, traditional pre-workouts contain a heap of caffeine too, meaning that they're also guilty of toning down your pump. The solution?

Make sure you take a pre-workout with either citrulline or arginine. Both are natural vasodilators, which may help to cancel out some of the pump-limiting effects of caffeine.

Of course, depending on how much you enjoy the pump, you can go ahead and just take citrulline without caffeine. But for most people, the small decrease in the pump — which you won't even feel unless you do high reps — is unlikely to affect your muscle gains at all.

Image of a bodybuilder doing cable chest flys

Who Should Go With Coffee?

Choose coffee for a predictable, yet pleasant boost in energy. Make sure you find the right dose for you through. If you begin to feel jittery or on edge after drinking your brew, then you've definitely taken too much caffeine. However, if you barely feel a thing, go ahead and double up on your espresso.

Unlike pre-workout supplements which only boost performance, coffee has a long list of health benefits that may help your body more in the long run.

You should also go with coffee if you'd rather not chance it with questionable supplements, that have a million different ingredients you've never heard of.

We're not saying pre workout powders are dangerous, but they are not created equally at all, and we recommend doing some in-depth research before pulling the plug and buying a tub.

For more info, check out our guide: https://www.vitalrepz.com/supplements/best-pre-workout/

Who Should Avoid It?

Avoid coffee if you want the best gym pumps possible. Being a vasoconstrictor by its very nature, it reduces blood flow to the muscles and doesn't contain any arginine or citrulline in it's beans (obviously), which both increase muscle pumps nicely.

Pre-workouts and coffee aren't meant to be taken together, or even on the same day. If you already drink one, don't add any coffee into the mix, because your caffeine intake will be too high, which can cause problems.

Image of a world map showing where cofee is grown

Who Should Go With A Pre-Workout?

Anyone can benefit from taking a pre-workout before the gym, to train harder and longer than usual. However, those who will get the most from it, are those seeking the maximum muscle growth, performance, and the fastest recovery.

However, it is worth noting that as exciting as they may be to take, they are not a cure-all. While the can really amp you up before your sets, pre-workout won't instantly add muscle on your body or make you leaner.

That said, the modest benefits you gain in the energy department, make you train harder and capable of tolerating more sets, which leads to more muscle mass over time.

We also cannot overlook the benefits of beta-alanine and citrulline. While beta alanine helps the muscles to buffer away performance-liming lactic acid, citrulline speeds up recovery, providing us with a better muscle pump, which can be very motivating when we’re working out.

Pre-Workout

Strengths

Our Rating

Price

#1 Vintage Blast

Caffeine

250 mg


Servings

20


Best For

The Best Overall

#2 Six Star Explosion

Caffeine

135 mg


Servings

30


Best For

Best Value

#3 Legion Pulse

Caffeine

350 mg


Servings

21


Best For

A High Caffeine-Tolerance

#4 Pre Kaged

Caffeine

274 mg


Servings

20


Best For

Pump & Muscle Recovery

#5 BSN No Xplode

Caffeine

275 mg


Servings

30-60


Best For

Good but uses a proprietary blend 

Who's Best Off Giving It A Miss?

  • Those who don't want the hassle of understanding all the different ingredients on their tub.
  • Those on a budget — brewing your own coffee is very cost effective much of the time.

The Verdict

You just can't go wrong with an honestly brewed mug of coffee. While we are definitely proponents of supplements around here, there's no denying that the likes of arabica and robusta beans each boast a heap of benefits that you just can't enjoy by taking a pre workout supplement.

On the other hand, it's hard to deny the effectiveness of favorite ingredients like beta alanine, citrulline, and BCAAs, which commonly feature in many of the top supplement formulas.

While the coffee vs pre workout debate will never be completely answered, we hope you enjoyed our take on it. Whichever route you decide to go down, remember that a good session at the gym will give you the biggest endorphin rush of all.

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Jonathan Abbott
Jonathan Abbott
Jonathan is a long time fitness enthusiast who specializes in helping others reach their goals faster with the most up to date sports science. When he's not working, you'll find him challanging his body with heavy squats and deadlifts.

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