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Should You Drink Coffee Before or After Your Run?

Maximize the benefits of your caffeine consumption by timing it around your run.

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If you are a coffee fiend (and I suspect you might be if you’re reading this), you probably don’t think much about your coffee routine. You know when you need it and so you get it. There’s not going to be much that would tempt you into switching up your coffee schedule. 

But what if we told you that fine tuning your caffeine intake can boost your performance? Here’s the scoop on whether caffeine before running or after is more beneficial.

Coffee Before Running

There are many reasons why you might want a cup of joe before heading out for a run. For many, it’s simply part of a morning ritual, something that signifies the start of the day. But science backs it up as being useful in so many ways. 

Aside from helping you wake up, science shows that caffeine may have a positive impact on speed and endurance. If you’re feeling a bit sluggish or sleep deprived, research shows that consuming caffeine before a 20 minute nap can improve sprint performance and antioxidant defense. Caffeine can also enhance your mental vigilance during exhaustive exercise.

A cup of coffee or tea, energy gel, or even caffeinated gum can do the trick without making you feel too jittery.

Having a small amount of caffeine 30 to 60 minutes before you run can give you the little boost you need to help you get out the door,” says Coach Hillary Kigar. 

What is a ‘small amount’ of caffeine? Well, that depends. “The dose should be about 100 to 300 milligrams for most women,” says Mark Haub, a professor of nutrition at Kansas State University. That comes out to about one to three 8 oz. cups of coffee for the whole day. 

But because our bodies are all different, Haub recommends that you take the time to find out what works best for you. 

Don’t forget that coffee has the ability to speed up gastrointestinal processes (though researchers aren’t entirely sure why that is). You’ll definitely want to know how it affects your stomach personally before race day in particular. “Athletes need to ‘listen’ to their bodies and try coffee a few times before exercises,” he says.

Likewise, the type of run you are about to do might also affect your optimal caffeine dosage and timing. “Athletes should determine the timing that they feel works best for them and the event they are completing,” he says. “A 5K may have a different timing need than a marathon, for example.” 

Trial and error might be your best course of action in determining your caffeine needs. Be patient though, it may take some practice for your body to get the timing right, so you aren’t just running to the restroom. 

Haub also notes that most scientific studies are conducted using black coffee, so it’s not really known (positively or negatively) how milk, sugar, or other common specialty drink ingredients affect performance. 

Coffee After Running

Outside of your training, you might enjoy capping off your run with a well-earned cup of coffee (or a coffee smoothie). How caffeine affects your post-run recovery has rarely been studied, but small studies have found that caffeine consumed with carbohydrates may help with replenishing depleted glycogen stores.

But even if coffee after a run doesn’t offer a performance boost, you’ll still be reaping the other rewards coffee has to offer like the reduced risk for several chronic diseases. It is also rich in vitamin B2 and magnesium. And it will help you feel alert for the day ahead, especially after a tiring long run. 

If you are going to drink it after your run, don’t forget to also stay hydrated. You might need to up your water intake even more if you are drinking an espresso drink. 

If you are sensitive to caffeine, try not to consume it too late in the day, otherwise it might affect your sleep schedule. Remember, sleep is the number one element when it comes to recovery. Most sleep experts will recommend avoiding it after noon. But a recent report finds that stopping caffeine six hours prior to sleep is enough for people with a caffeine sensitivity to still get to sleep just fine. 

So coffee before or after the run? While it’s more likely to boost your performance before a run, there’s nothing wrong with drinking it after. If those roasted beans warm your soul, then drink up.