Should you drink coffee before working out? And other things we’re told about exercise

If you’re the type of person who’s always on the lookout for ways to improve your workout (and your results!), keep reading.   

There’s always lots of talk around what and when to eat before and after an exercise sesh (more on that later). Your morning brew is one of them.

Many trainers and avid exercisers swear by a caffeine bump before working out. (And people who compete in things like marathons and ultras will often consume caffeine during their race.) But does it really do anything?  

The research says yes. 

We know that coffee helps wake us up in the morning, but studies show that consuming caffeine between 30 minutes and one hour before working out can boost energy, increase endurance, and even improve muscle performance.

According to a study published in the journal Nutrients, consuming three to six mg of caffeine per kg of body mass (there’s about 95 mg of caffeine in the average cup of coffee) can enhance performance. 

A caveat: If you’re sensitive to caffeine (upset stomach, insomnia, increased anxiety), coffee before exercise isn’t for you. 

So if coffee (or bars or shakes with caffeine) is a yes, what else should you be doing (and what can you ignore)? 

So Much Yes

Sleep – Getting seven to nine hours every night not only helps with muscle recovery after a tough workout session, it will help ensure you workout in the first place. If you feel tired, you won’t be able to power through your workout, or you might blow it off altogether.  

Water – This is a no-brainer, but make sure you drink before, during and after a workout. It’s suggested that you should drink half your bodyweight in ounces per day, and about 20 oz before a workout. 

Stretch/Warm-up – Stretching alone doesn’t cut it (research shows that it won’t actually help performance or reduce injury), unless you’re stretching properly. It’s important to warm up the body before making it work, and especially as we age, but there are two things to remember: aerobic warmup and dynamic stretching. 

An aerobic warmup (5 to 10 minutes of light exercise before weights) plus dynamic stretching (moving through stretches instead of holding them, and targeting the muscles you’ll be working that day) are the way to go.

Switch things up – To help avoid plateaus and keep motivation up, be sure to inject your regular routine with something new. Try a new class, go for a hike on the trails once a week, buy a new gym “accessory.” Whatever works to keep you interested, having fun, and seeing results. 

Planning/prep – Plan a week’s worth of workouts and write them down, and track your progress on an app. Get ahead of your excuses by scheduling time for exercise, and know what you’re going to do during each sweat sesh.

Use a foam roller – While there isn’t a ton of research on foam rolling, trainers and fitness gurus are generating more and more buzz about using a roller to wake up your muscles, boost circulation, and increase range of motion before working out. One study found that foam rolling could even increase muscle strength. 

Carb loading – There’s a range of opinions on what to eat before a workout, the ratios of carbs to fats to protein, and how far ahead you should eat. That said, eating carbohydrates can increase endurance and performance thanks to glycogen, helping to feed muscles and boost energy. Adding a low-fat and protein-rich snack to complex carbs is the generally agreed upon trifecta (toast and peanut butter; protein smoothie; bananas or apples and string cheese) to help you get the most out of your workout, though even this can be affected by the type of exercise you’re doing, as well as the length and intensity. 

Myth Busting 

When it comes to exercise and getting fit, there are a few tall tales that refuse to die. Here’s a quick run-down.  

Lifting weights will bulk you up – False! It actually takes a huge amount of work to pack on the muscle you see on bodybuilders. Lifting weights actually comes with a huge number of benefits – even in older age. Weight control, reduced inflammation, mental wellness, less chronic pain, improved circulation, and healthier bones and joints are just some of the reasons why working out with weights should be a regular part of your  routine. 

Weighing yourself is how to tell if you’re losing weight – Wrong again. Since muscle weighs more than fat, if you’re building muscle, the number on the scale might not move much. With the FitTrack smart scale and MyHealth app, you’ll measure more than your weight - BMI, muscle mass, bone mass, hydration levels and more – which will give you a more accurate picture of where you’re at and how your body is changing. 

No pain, no gain – This is a tough one to let go. Some muscle soreness is normal, but intense pain the next day (or during a workout) is generally a sign that you’ve pushed yourself too far. It can also be an indication that you’ve overused global muscle groups (like your biceps or quads) to get you through a tough session, instead of the muscles you’re actually targeting. The fix? Strengthen your core. And if you’re feeling pain during a workout, stop what you’re doing to prevent injury.   

Sports drinks are necessary after a workout – Unless you’re a high performance (high-intensity exercise that lasts longer than an hour) or professional athlete, most of us aren’t working out at the levels that warrant a sports drink to replenish salts and electrolytes. And, if you’re trying to lose weight, the high amount of sugar in those neon drinks could actually cancel out all your hard work. Stick to water for optimal hydration.  

It’s best to exercise in the morning – Not necessarily. The best time to exercise is whenever you can! If there’s a time of day that works for you and you enjoy it and can commit to it, then that’s when you should work out.

Working out at the gym is better than at home – Again, do what works for you! While there are certainly machines at the gym that you aren’t going to have at home, most of us can still get by with the basics. If you can get motivated and stick to a routine at home, great! However, if you know you won’t get off the couch to run on the treadmill, the gym is the place for you. 

There’s so much information out there on what to do and not to do, and conflicting info on just about all of it. The takeaway? Do what works for you! Unless you’re a serious athlete, or have a very specific event or goal you’re working towards, the best exercise routine is the one you’ll stick to and enjoy.