Pre-Workout vs Coffee: What's the Difference?

by Nader Qudimat
Updated June 13, 2023

With a challenging workout around the corner...

You can't help but confront two potential pre-exercise options:

Your all-time favorite coffee blend or a jar of pre-workout.

Would it matter which one you consume before heading to the gym?

Which do you choose? 

Is there really a significant difference between the two, and does it matter which one you consume before hitting the gym? 

This article aims to answer these questions.

What Is a Pre-Workout

Pre-workout supplements are designed to boost your performance and endurance during workouts. 

They typically contain a variety of ingredients, such as creatine for strength, beta-alanine for endurance, and caffeine for focus and energy.

Benefits of Pre-Workout

Many athletes and fitness enthusiasts rely on pre-workout supplements for an energy boost. 

The blend of ingredients are designed to reduce fatigue, improve focus, and increase muscle power. [1]

It's like a secret weapon for intense, productive workouts.

Caffeine Enhance:

Just like coffee, pre-workout supplements contain caffeine, providing an energy lift and bettering workout performance.

Amino Acids:

Amino acids in pre-workout supplements can enhance muscular endurance, bolster muscle fix, and advance muscle growth.


Pre-workout supplements come in dissimilar formulations, granting users to select the product that is ideal for their requirements, flavors, and caffeine tolerance.

What is Coffee?

Coffee is a beverage made from roasted coffee beans. 

While there is caffeine in coffee, there is also decaf coffee which doesn’t have caffeine.

Caffeine in coffee is a well-known ergogenic aid, widely used by athletes, from casual gym-goers to elite athletes.

It's a stimulant that can increase alertness and energy, making it a popular choice before exercise.

But where do we get our caffeine fix from?

That's where coffee and pre-workout supplements come into play.

Ingredients in Coffee

Coffee, on the other hand, is a natural beverage derived from coffee beans.

Its primary active ingredient is caffeine, an old but proven to work stimulant that can enhance focus and energy. 

Benefits of Coffee

Coffee is notable for containing caffeine, a substance capable of heightening vigilance, diminishing the apparent level of exertion and enhancing performance endurance.

It contains antioxidants and can increase metabolism, help burn fat, and improve physical performance.

Plus, it's a familiar and comforting way for many to start their day.

Rich in antioxidants, coffee can effectively shield the body from oxidative stress due to free radicals - which contribute to the development of chronic diseases and lackluster overall health- rendering these same antioxidants crucially significant in promoting wellness. [2]

Significantly more affordable than its contemporaries such as pre-workout supplements, an individual who desires an energy lift before their workouts may wish to opt for coffee.

Pre-Workout vs Coffee: A Detailed Comparison

Caffeine Content in Pre-Workouts and Coffee

Caffeine is the foremost component contained in both coffee and pre-workout supplements, responsible for propelling an energy surge.

Nevertheless, the caffeine content may vary subject to the sort of beans used, roast duration, and preparation technique utilized.

As suggested by Mayo Clinic, a usual 8-ounce cup of joe comprises almost 96 milligrams of caffeine.

Concurrently, pre-workout supplements can consist of an extensive diversity of caffeine amounts - normally between 75 to 300 milligrams per dosage.

In this manner, based on the brand, a pre-workout supplement can be comparable to one up to three cups of coffee in respect of caffeine quantity.

For superior performance upgrade, studies point out that the perfect caffeine dosage lies approximately at 3-6 mg/kg of body mass.

Nevertheless, tiny doses of 2-3 mg/kg, or around 200 mg of caffeine, could also amplify exercise action in certain instances.

Effects on Performance

Both pre-workout supplements and coffee can boost your energy levels and focus, thanks to their caffeine content. [3]

However, pre-workouts may provide an extra performance edge due to their blend of other performance-enhancing ingredients.

Coffee is Cheaper

Coffee can range anywhere from 10 cents to a dollar while pre-workouts range from $1-2 dollars and sometimes even more, depending on the formulation.

In this aspect, coffee wins with pricing and with this, you can control the amount of caffeine you’re consuming.

Disadvantages of Pre-Workouts and Coffee

Impact on Sleep

Post-consumption effects of caffeine such as jitteriness or disrupted sleep patterns are likely, especially if taken near bedtime.

Caffeine also has a half-life of 5-6 hours, meaning you’ll still have caffeine in your system for up to 12 hours or more, depending on how much caffeine you consume. [4]

Digestive Health

While coffee may lead to digestive discomfort for some, pre-workout supplements are typically designed to be easy on the stomach.

The ingestion of coffee may result in digestive discomfort for some people, which may be undesirable prior to exercise, particularly among athletes engaging in endurance sports where the motion might exacerbate previously existing digestive issues.

Pre-Workout: Safety and Effects

Side effects, such as jitteriness, stomach upset, or tingling sensations from beta-alanine, may occur due to the ingredients used in pre-workout supplements.

However, a lack of regulation by the FDA means that there is no assurance of ingredient reliability or the veracity of claims made on product packaging.

Consequently, various pre-workout supplements can differ in their effectiveness and safety.

The Verdict: Which One is Better?

Both pre-workout supplements and coffee can be beneficial for workouts.

If you're looking for a simple energy boost and prefer the taste of coffee, it might be the obvious choice.

However, if you're aiming for a more intense workout and need a more comprehensive range of benefits, pre-workout is the way to go.

The choice between coffee or pre-workout consumption for workouts will be based on your personal preferences as well as the outcomes you aim to achieve.

Coffee provides a natural and reasonably priced energy boost, with fewer prominent side effects.

Conversely, some may opt for pre-workout supplements to obtain added advantages from their amino acid content and other ingredients.

We recommend that you consider the drawbacks and benefits of choosing any of these options by taking into consideration various factors such as prospective negative outcomes, expenses incurred, and individual sensitivities to caffeine.

You'll ultimately achieve an ideal routine for yourself when you strike a balance between utilizing either coffee or pre-workout supplements prior to your workouts.

Considerations Before Choosing

Remember to consider your body's needs, workout intensity, and any potential dietary restrictions before choosing between pre-workout and coffee.

FAQs about Pre-Workouts & Coffee

1. Are pre-workout bad for your health?

While pre-workout supplements can have side effects if used improperly, they are generally safe when taken as directed. [5]

Always follow the recommended dosage and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns.

2. Can I drink coffee and take a pre-workout on the same day?

Yes, but it's important to be mindful of your overall caffeine intake.

Too much caffeine can lead to side effects like jitters, insomnia, and increased heart rate.

You can also choose a pre-workout without stimulants if you want to combine with it another caffeine source like coffee.

3. What time of day should I take pre-workout?

Pre-workout should be taken 15-45 minutes before your workout.

Avoid taking it too close to bedtime due to its caffeine content.

4. Can I drink coffee instead of pre-workout?

Yes, coffee can be a natural alternative to pre-workout supplements for those who need an energy boost before workouts.

5. Is it better to work out with or without caffeine?

Caffeine can enhance athletic performance and increase energy and focus.

However, it's not necessary for everyone.

There are plenty of non-stimulant pre workouts listen to your body and adjust accordingly.

Bottom Line:

In conclusion, the choice between pre-workout and coffee largely depends on your individual needs, preferences, and workout goals.

While both can provide energy and focus, pre-workout supplements tend to offer a broader range of performance benefits.

However, coffee is a natural and simple alternative for those looking for a quick energy boost.

Listen to your body and consult with a healthcare professional if you're unsure which is right for you.

by Nader Qudimat

Forged by iron and cold steel, I'm Nader, a mid-30s natural bodybuilder. Once a 100lb skinny guy, I've transformed into a 200lb muscular athlete with over 15 years of lifting experience. Today, I leverage my transformation and extensive experience to guide countless individuals on their fitness journeys.

Click here to check out my 12 year transformation: Natural 12 Year Transformation

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