Coffee: The Ultimate Pre-Workout (But NOT Post Workout) Drink

The Facts

There are numerous scientific studies that demonstrate that coffee is a potent ergogenic (a drug with the capability for increasing capacity for bodily or mental labour especially by eliminating fatigue symptoms.) It can increase fat burning during training, heighten an athlete’s ability to perform optimally and improve work capacity.

However, if you drink it post-workout, you will delay recovery and elevate the stress hormone cortisol just when you need to clear it.

This is due to two factors that we should be aware of. Cortisol and the Parasympathetic nervous system. 

Exercising naturally elevates cortisol. If you are training hard enough to trigger an adaptive response then you are exposing the body to an acute bout of stress. 

After exercising you want to do everything you can to help the body metabolise that cortisol so that you get rid of all the metabolic by-products of training. If cortisol remains high, waste won’t be removed, tissue won’t be rebuilt as quickly, recovery will be delayed, and you’ll feel fatigued for longer.

Caffeine has been shown to elevate cortisol, and at the least, its presence in the body will slow the metabolism of cortisol.

But what does it mean?!

To avoid the risk of coffee ruining your recovery, drink your caffeine pre-workout.

Post-workout do the following instead:

  • Take Magnesium to replenish lost electrolytes 
  • Take Vitamin C. As little at 2mg post workout can clear excess caffeine and cortisol thus speeding up recovery
  • Drink Green Tea. Green Tea contains numerous antioxidants that can accelerate recovery and it has not been found to elevate cortisol to the same extent as coffee, this may be due to the l-theanine present in the tea which exerts a calming effect on the body.
  • Finally give your body time to recover before you drink, eat or take anything else…

The Parasympathetic Nervous system

Sometimes called the rest and digest system, the parasympathetic system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract. The Parasympathetic Nervous system is the opposite to the sympathetic nervous system which is linked in part to our fight and flight response, a response that is wide awake when we are working out.

If we want to recover post workout and get the best from our post workout nutrition, we need to spend time moving from the sympathetic nervous system back into the parasympathetic nervous system.

The Meathead myth about a “Metabolic window” is not quite true as actually downing a ton of protein shake and food right after training could lead to more fat storage and wasted energy as your body is still reacting to it’s fight or flight response. Eating 15 minutes later when your heart rate has slowed down would lead to better intake of nutrients and less energy stored as fat. 

So how do we start our recovery process and activate our parasympathetic nervous system? 

  • Pranayama (Deep Breathing): Following your workout lay down and start to breath deeply, 4 to 5 seconds in, hold for 4 to 5 seconds then breath out, again taking 4 to 5 seconds to do so. 
  • Elevate your legs: enhance your breathing by finding a declined bench or wall to put your feet against, practice your Pranayama, this doesn’t “drain lactic acid” or “help with circulation” as the old wives tales would lead you to believe, but it does align your diaphragm and pelvic floor, facilitating better belly breathing and the relaxed position allows you to slow your BPM quicker than standing.

Train hard and recover well,