Is Caffeine a Good Way to Increase Workout Performance?

Whether you are a seasoned athlete, an active individual, or just starting your fitness journey, you might be familiar with, or have even taken, “pre-workout”. It is usually found as a single or multi-ingredient dietary supplement taken before your gym sesh. Since pre-workouts have been found to have some “ergogenic” effects, meaning they can enhance physical performance, they have quickly found fitness fame!1

The most popular pre-workouts are usually multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements because a blend of ingredients can work together to produce a combined effect that can enhance exercise performance versus a single-ingredient pre-workout.1 Some of these ingredients are considered “stimulants” because they raise the level of physiological activity in the body.

Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements can contain “proprietary blends”, or unique combinations of ingredients, where the amount of each individual ingredient can be excluded from the supplement label. Since dietary supplements do not require a prescription to be taken these “proprietary blends” could also potentially include substances that have been minimally studied for long-term intake and could potentially lead to unknown negative side effects.1,2

Excluding quantities from labels can come with complications for the consumer if they are trying to avoid stimulants or other ingredients. You might be asking: “Well, why would someone avoid stimulants?” Stimulants can cause unwanted side effects for various reasons such as a person’s genetic makeup or they might be contra-indicated for specific underlying medical conditions.3 Stim-free pre-workouts might just be the solution for individuals avoiding stimulants, those who are stimulant-sensitive, or those who tend to exercise late at night.

I know what you might be thinking: “BUT WAIT, I want my pre-workout to stimulate my body! If not then what's the point?” Great question! Let me give you some background on stimulants to answer that. Let's start with talking a little about the most common and popular stimulant found in most pre-workouts today: caffeine!

Caffeine initially found its way into locker rooms in the early days of modern sport, around the 1900s by athletes, trainers, and coaches looking for a competitive advantage, fast forward to 2009–2010, a survey found that roughly 90% of adults have caffeine regularly, with dietary caffeine consumption of U.S. adults estimated at about 200 mg/day.3 Today, it still remains that 80-90% of adults have a daily intake of caffeine, with the mean daily intake increasing to 280 mg/day.4 One cup of coffee contains about 95 mg.5

Caffeine, when consumed in doses of 3-6mg/kg of body mass around 60 minutes before workouts, has been shown to have small to moderate benefits such as enhanced muscular endurance and strength, increased movement velocity, sprinting, jumping, throwing performance and improved cognitive function.1,3

However, there are differences in our genes that can affect the way we break down, absorb, use and excrete nutrients. In the science world, caffeine is the most widely researched compound with regard to these genetic variations. For example, one study found that those of us that metabolize caffeine quickly may experience increased performance enhancement as opposed to “slow metabolizers” who may not experience the same benefits and may experience increased side effects.3

Just as performance can vary, so can the side effects of caffeine. Some genotypes, or specific sets of genes, have seen greater sleep disturbances with caffeine intake by reducing sleep efficiency, decreasing deep stages of sleep, and increasing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep.3 Sleep deprivation is associated with negative health effects such as impaired brain function and decreased physical performance, quite the opposite of what we want our pre-workouts to achieve6.

Most adults require 7-9 hours of sleep and it is especially important for muscle recovery when actively training, hence decline in sleep quality for some individuals can severely overshadow the benefits of caffeine consumption in pre-workouts6. This all might be especially limiting for some late-night gym goers; and for those of you thinking it, no, you cannot ‘out caffeinate’ poor sleep!3

Some genetic makeups that are more sensitive to the stimulating effects of caffeine could also experience feelings of anxiety. Anxiety before, or during exercise can affect performance and in turn, increase the risk of injury.3 Anxiety can also further reduce sleep quality. Caffeine can also induce jitters. Depending on the level of precision needed for a sport or exercise activity, increased jitters or other stimulating effects of coffee might not be warranted.3 Caffeine, like other stimulants, can increase heart rate, and thus can be contraindicated for some cardiovascular medical conditions.

Even in studies where caffeine was seen to improve overall performance in athletes and even in those habitual caffeine users, it was limited by the withdrawal period seen 24 hours after.3 Caffeine withdrawal causes mild to significant distress (such as headache, fatigue, decreased energy, alertness, drowsiness, difficulty concentrating, depressed moods, and irritability) and has been reported in the 80-90% of adults that use caffeine regularly. Essentially, many may find that stimulants like caffeine can deplete their body of energy as it recovers from that short term energy burst you may have experienced during a workout, leaving you with less energy to go about the rest of your day. These are some reasons why someone might be considered stimulant sensitive and also want to avoid stimulants like caffeine.

So to answer the question at hand: “I want my pre-workout to stimulate my body! If not then what’s the point?” If you are taking a stim-free pre-workout you are eliminating some of the side effects commonly seen with traditional stimulating pre-workout ingredients. The point is that stim-free pre-workouts have other ingredients that can assist in enhancing your physical performance and can target physiological mechanisms such as the production of nitric oxide.

Nitric oxide is a molecule produced naturally in the body that enhances circulation and its production can be promoted with ingredients like L-arginine, amla fruit and beetroot juice which have been found to help increase blood flow and oxygen transportation to active muscles. Additionally, adenosine 5′-triphosphate disodium can promote endurance, lean muscle mass development and strength.1,7,8

Non-stimulating pre-workout blends can be a great addition to a balanced diet, sound sleep, and other active lifestyle habits for gym goers (especially night owls) and athletes that would like to take their fitness just a little step further without the jitters and other side effects of traditional stimulating pre-workouts! NatureCity’s TrueNOx is a 5-in-1 pre-workout drink mix that can help energize your body without caffeine, sugar or other stimulants, it helps support increased energy, blood flow and endurance and promotes mental focus during workouts while promoting lean body mass and strength. Make NatureCity’s TrueNOx a part of your workout routine today and say goodbye to those post-pre-workout crashes and jitters.



- Maryann Walsh, MFN, RD, LDN
Maryann is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist and a Certified Personal Trainer. Maryann pursued the study of dietetics and nutrition because from a young age she became conscious about making healthy decisions and how they can affect our overall health and happiness. Maryann wanted to become a dietitian in order to share her passion and enthusiasm for all things health and wellness with others and to help guide individuals on a path to a healthier lifestyle. Maryann possesses bachelors degrees in Biological Sciences and Dietetics as well as a masters degree in Food and Nutrition. Read more from Maryann!