Caffeine is probably the most potent and noticeable pre-workout ingredient. So it makes sense that plenty of fitness pros claim that coffee is all you need as a pre-workout.
We want to consider this question from a few points of view. Since what everyone wants out of a pre-workout is slightly different, the answer largely comes down to what you want to achieve personally.
Is Coffee a Powerful Pre-Workout?
Coffee can be a powerful pre-workout because of its caffeine. Caffeine increases focus, energy, strength and power. It also improves mood and reduces perceptions of pain. Studies have clearly shown that caffeine leads to performance enhancement.
Is Caffeine the single most powerful pre-workout ingredient?
An argument can be made that caffeine is the single most potent pre-workout ingredient that will lead to the most overall performance increase. 250-350mg of caffeine seems to be the ideal dosage for most people.
Is Coffee The Best Delivery Mechanism for Caffeine?
This is where things start to turn against coffee as the best pre-workout! It’s hard to precisely dose caffeine in a cup of coffee due to variables in brewing process, beans, etc. So knowing how much caffeine you are getting isn’t clear with coffee.
Additionally, the caffeine in coffee tends to give some people the jitters more than other forms of caffeine. This can be resolved with ingredients like Glycine or Theanine.
And finally, drinking coffee before a workout can cause weird stomach issues.
What is Coffee Missing As a Pre-Workout?
So if all you drink is coffee as your pre-workout, what functionality might you be missing out on?
Let’s start with Creatine. At PreWorkout.org we advocate including creatine in your pre-workout because of the vast improvement to body composition and strength that it provides. If you’re chasing PRs and not using creatine then you are absolutely missing out. Caffeine alone will not be as effective as caffeine plus creatine. We recommend 5-10g of Creatine per day.
Next, let’s discuss Beta-Alanine. Over the last decade beta-alanine has emerged as the leading ingredient for endurance and anti-fatigue properties. A pre-workout with beta-alanine plus caffeine will get you more reps than a pre-workout with just caffeine. We recommend 2-3g in your pre-workout but keep in mind that at this dose you’ll feel some of the tingles.
Finally, we’ll discuss Citrulline. If you’re looking for increased blood flow and pump, then L-Citrulline is your best ingredient. You will absolutely get a better pump and more blood flow to your muscles if your pre-workout includes L-Citrulline plus Caffeine rather than just caffeine. We recommend 6-10g of L-Citrulline for your pre-workout.
There are several other ingredients that are good in a pre-workout. In addition to the ingredients above we recommend electrolytes like sodium, calming nootropics like Tyrosine and Theanine, and mood boosters like Rhodiola Rosea.
The bottom line is that you are leaving a lot on the table if all you take is caffeine in your pre-workout. And with coffee, all you are taking is caffeine.
So on the one hand, caffeine is a great single ingredient pre-workout in many ways. Is it the best? Absolutely not.