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If you’ve been run ragged with a busy life schedule, trying to squeeze in your workouts, and still do your job, and juggle extracurricular activities for yourself or your family, you might find that your morning cup of joe just doesn’t give you the same amount of perk that it used to.
If coffee isn’t giving you the boost it used to, can you take a pre-workout instead?
No, pre-workout is not a good replacement for your morning coffee and it should only be used prior to exercise. Therefore, if you normally have coffee before a workout (and not a pre-workout supplement), then it would be a suitable replacement. But it shouldn’t be used to replace your coffee in the absence of training.
- Pre-workout is a better source of energy than caffeine before training because of its performance-enhancing ingredients, better taste, and reduced potential for jitteriness.
- Caffeine is a better source of energy than pre-workout at all other times during the day because it’s regulated by the FDA and costs less.
- You can boost your energy levels without coffee or supplements by getting adequate sleep, optimizing your nutrition, and soaking in a daily dose of fresh air.
5 Reasons To Take Pre-Workout Instead of Coffee
There are 5 main reasons to consider taking pre-workout instead of coffee for an energy boost before your training session.
1. Additional Ingredients
The number one reason to take a pre-workout supplement instead of coffee is to benefit from the additional performance-enhancing ingredients in the product beyond caffeine.
Here are the most popular pre-workout ingredients and their benefits:
- Caffeine (same as coffee): caffeine helps to improve alertness, focus, and mood so that you can concentrate on your training and perform better, especially if high levels of coordination are required (i.e. weightlifting)
- Creatine: creatine monohydrate allows users to train harder and for longer, which allows for better strength gains and muscle growth.
- Citrulline Malate: citrulline malate improves performance by optimizing oxygenated blood flow to working muscles.
- Branched-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs): BCAAs get metabolized directly in muscle tissue so they can provide instant energy to the muscle, reducing fatigue and decreasing muscle protein breakdown during exercise.
- Beta-Alanine: beta-alanine improves the body’s ability to buffer hydrogen ions (a waste product created during intense exercise), which delays the onset of fatigue so that you can work out longer or harder before taking a break, boosting your results.
I used to hate the taste of coffee, so I totally understand what it’s like if you don’t like it either.
Pre-workout comes in all sorts of yummy flavors like Blue Raspberry or Tropical Punch (I’ve even tried a Root Beer-flavored pre-workout), or you can get it unflavored.
If you prefer the taste of pre-workout compared to coffee, then you may be tempted to take your pre-workout for energy even when you’re not working out, but here’s why you shouldn’t (click to read my other article).
Mixing a scoop of pre-workout powder into a shaker cup of water takes less time than brewing a pot of coffee.
It’s even faster than boiling water to mix with instant coffee.
And obviously, the time savings are HUGE if you no longer have to drive to your favorite coffee shop to get your fix.
So, the ability to save time can be a major reason to opt for pre-workout over coffee.
4. Stim-Free Options
You might find that caffeine makes you feel jittery or anxious (even if it’s decaf) so you may want the more natural energy you get from stimulant-free pre-workout supplements.
5. Facility Rules
Finally, your training facility may be particular about whether they allow you to bring a thermos on the gym floor.
If you can’t bring a thermos of coffee then you’d be better off sticking to pre-workout in your water bottle to boost your energy for your workout.
5 Downsides Of Taking Pre-Workout Instead of Coffee
While there are definitely valid reasons to consider taking pre-workout instead of coffee, there are also potential risks and downsides.
The biggest concern when it comes to taking pre-workout instead of coffee is ensuring that you stay within the safe daily limit of 400 mg of caffeine.
This will help keep you from developing a tolerance to caffeine, as well as ward off nasty side effects like irritability, nausea, and headaches.
Plus, if you choose a pre-workout supplement that isn’t third-party certified (tested in a lab by an outside company) to confirm the accuracy of the ingredients compared to the label, you run the risk of getting unknown and potentially harmful additives in the product.
2. Unpleasant Sensations
Since many pre-workout supplements contain beta-alanine, you may also experience a harmless (but weird) tingling or itching sensation when you take pre-workout.
That said, you can get a pre-workout without beta-alanine but there could also be other ingredients in pre-workout that just don’t sit well and make you feel “off”.
If you’re someone who absolutely loves the taste of coffee, you’re likely going to be disappointed by even the coffee-flavored pre-workout options like MN Sports Roasted Iced Coffee + Pre Workout (made with real coffee).
You could always switch to a decaf brew to get that coffee taste without adding to the caffeine content of your pre-workout, but if you’re a coffee purist then a decaf coffee may not cut it.
If you love a warm and cozy cup of coffee to get you going in the morning, pre-workout likely isn’t going to cut it because pre-workout supplements generally aren’t designed to be mixed with hot liquids.
Finally, another downside to pre-workout instead of coffee is the higher cost.
Most pre-workout supplements cost at least $2-$3 per serving (or more), whereas coffee can be a fraction of that cost, especially if you brew your own at home.
- If you’re set on pre-workout and want to cut costs then try our DIY Pre-Workout Recipes For Less Than $1.00 Per Scoop
How To Use Pre-Workout Instead of Coffee
If you’re switching from coffee to a pre-workout supplement for energy for training, it’s important to follow the instructions on the label to consume an appropriate dose and mix it with the appropriate amount of water.
That said, when you first start taking pre-workout, it’s better to err on the side of caution and start with a ½ serving to see how you tolerate the product before taking a full serving.
After a few workouts, you’ll have a better sense of the way pre-workout feels for you, and you can try increasing to a full dose if you feel like you need more energy.
You should take your pre-workout 30-60 minutes before your workout to give your body time to absorb the ingredients to get their benefit while training, but not so long before that the effects have worn off before you even start.
One Warning For Using Pre-Workout Instead Of Coffee
The most important thing to keep in mind is to keep your total daily caffeine intake below 400 mg. This includes caffeine from all sources like pre-workout supplements, coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate.
When you exceed the daily limit of 400 mg, you increase the risk of negative side effects like anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations, and jitteriness.
This means that you will need more and more caffeine to feel its effects, and when you do try to cut back, you can experience withdrawal symptoms in the form of fatigue, headaches, irritability, and even depression.
The best way to keep an eye on your caffeine intake is to track all sources of caffeine in your day. Most nutrition apps do NOT show caffeine intake, but Cronometer (which tracks basically everything – click to read my full review!) does track caffeine.
What Is The Best Pre-Workout To Replace Coffee With?
Here are my top three recommendations for a pre-workout to replace coffee.
1. Evogen EVP Xtreme NO Iced Mocha Coffee Pre-Workout – Best Coffee Taste
Naturally, my top recommendation for a pre-workout to replace coffee is a delicious coffee-flavored replacement…iced coffee, that is.
One serving has 200 mg of caffeine, so start with a half dose and work up from there, to get the most out of the other active ingredients like creatine monohydrate, beta-alanine, L-citrulline, and more.
2. Transparent Labs Bulk Advanced Pre-Training Formula – Highest Quality Pre-Workout
The runner-up is this excellent product from Transparent Labs, second only because it’s not going to fill the coffee void as far as flavor.
This product is third-party certified to guarantee the accuracy of its ingredients, which includes clinically effective doses of beta-alanine (4 g) and citrulline malate (8 g), as well as B vitamins to support energy metabolism, and electrolytes to help replace what you lose by sweating.
This product contains a total of 225 mg of caffeine per serving, so I do recommend starting with a half dose to roughly match the amount of caffeine in one cup of coffee.
3. KAGED Pre-Kaged Stim-Free – Best Non-Stim Pre-Workout
My favorite stimulant-free pre-workout is this pick from the team at KAGED because it is third-party certified and has no artificial flavors or colors.
Since it does not contain any stimulants, you will be able to start with a full dose without feeling jittery.
5 Ways To Boost Your Energy Without Caffeine
If you’re struggling with low energy in general, there are several factors worth addressing before turning to supplemental caffeine, whether that’s from coffee or pre-workout.
1. Adequate Sleep
Getting adequate good quality sleep is the number one way that humans are designed to get energy; it’s why we are designed to spend roughly a third of our lives asleep (8 hours out of 24).
If you’re not getting enough shut-eye, try establishing a regular bedtime and wake-up time for all seven days of the week, if possible.
Next, have a consistent bedtime routine, and avoid electronics and screens for 1-2 hours before bed.
Lastly, make your bedroom cool and dark, and reserve it for sleeping and intimacy ONLY – no working, no watching TV, or scrolling on your phone.
2. Good Nutrition
You can also drastically boost your energy levels by eating a balanced diet with a mixture of minimally processed whole foods such as lean meats, whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, and nuts & seeds.
Aim to consume a quality source of protein, carbs, fats, and color (fruit or veg) at each meal.
If you’re unsure which foods fall into which nutrient category, check out my single macro food guide.
Since more than half of our body weight is water, it’s very important to drink enough.
Water is involved in many processes including regulating our body temperature and digesting and absorbing the food we eat, so it plays an important role in making sure that we feel energized.
Aim to drink the equivalent of half of your body weight in pounds, in ounces of water. For example, a person who weighs 160 lbs would look to drink 80 ounces of water.
This guideline can be adjusted up or down as needed – people who live in hot climates or sweat a lot might need to drink more water, and people who are less active might need to drink less. The goal is to achieve pale, nearly odorless urine.
4. Regular Exercise
While you might think that exercise would tire you out, regular physical activity actually helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to your entire body, and over time makes your body work more efficiently so that you have more energy.
This could be 5 sessions of 30 minutes.
5. Fresh Air & Sunlight
If your parents ever yelled at you to get outside as mine did, it turns out that they were onto something.
Research shows that getting at least 2 hours outside each week, whether that’s 20 minutes 6 days per week or 120 minutes 1 day per week, is linked to a greater sense of well-being and good health.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Use Pre-Workout To Stay Awake?
No, you should not use pre-workout to help you stay awake. Pre-workout should only be used prior to working out. If you struggle with staying awake, work on lifestyle changes to give you more energy including getting more sleep, good nutrition, adequate hydration, and regular exercise.
Is Pre-Workout Better Than Coffee?
Pre-workout is better than coffee when it comes to providing energy for training because it contains additional ingredients that can enhance performance beyond just caffeine, such as creatine for power, BCAAs for muscle growth, citrulline malate for getting oxygen to muscles, and beta-alanine to delay fatigue.
Can You Take Pre-Workout Right After Waking Up?
You can take pre-workout right after waking up if you have a workout planned within the next 30-60 minutes. However, if you are sensitive to caffeine or if you have a sensitive stomach, it is best to combine pre-workout with food rather than taking it on an empty stomach to avoid digestive discomfort.
How Much Pre-Workout Is Equivalent To Coffee?
The amount of pre-workout to be equivalent to one standard cup of coffee depends on the caffeine content of the pre-workout. One standard cup of coffee has ~100 mg of caffeine, and this is about half a serving of pre-workout, but can be only a quarter or a third serving of high-caffeine brands of pre-workout.
What To Read Next:
- Caffeine Pills vs Pre Workout: Pros, Cons, & Which Is Best?
- Can You Take Pre-Workout Twice In One Day? (Risks Explained)
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About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.
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