Bodybuilders seem to love stimulants – they get us going, improve mood, and have nutritional effects. They can help with everything from mood to metabolism – but do they come with risks?
Is coffee good for bodybuilding – or is it a Faustian bargain where you feel good now but pay for it later?
Today, we will look at what coffee is, what it does for you at a nutritional level, and how it interacts with bodybuilding goals and routines. Let’s get started with the most important basics.
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Coffee: What’s In It?
Coffee is a bean extract from roasting a fruity bean native to tropical African countries but with popular South American and Southeast Asian cultivars. The drink mixes coffee’s natural oils (fats), some important minerals, and a wide range of phytochemicals.
The phytochemicals are the main appeal: caffeine (the world’s most popular stimulant and pesticide), caffeic and chlorogenic acids, quercetin, and catechol. These are the most important compounds – and we’re going to touch on a few of them in this article.
You’ll also get a small amount of some trace minerals: calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese. Let’s look at the most important parts and what they do for you.
Caffeine In Coffee: The Most Important Ingredient
Caffeine is the main ingredient in coffee and the reason that it’s the world’s most popular drug.
It’s a psychomotor stimulant that makes you feel awake and improves cognition, workout performance, metabolism, and a handful of other major benefits. The point is that caffeine makes you go – it turns up a lot of processes in the body.
This raises some questions about what it does for you and where it might have side effects for bodybuilding.
Most people are concerned that caffeine is an adrenergic compound – it revs you up, so what does it do to the recovery and growth changes that use the opposite system (relaxation) for muscle growth?
The body needs a balance of ups and down – stress and rest – to get the most from things like exercise and recovery. This is key to bulking up and building muscle and preserving and protecting muscle during a cut – where continuous stress and undereating signal breakdown.
Does Caffeine Harm Bodybuilding Performance?
Coffee does not harm bodybuilding performance – it’s an effective pre-workout supplement, has interesting metabolic and neuroprotective effects, and only has side effects with improper use.
The main risks to bodybuilding performance aren’t inherent parts of coffee – it’s about how you use them.
Does coffee itself harm bodybuilding? No.
Can you harm your bodybuilding results with caffeine? Yes.
Fortunately, caffeine in coffee is relatively mild and doesn’t typically cause adrenaline and hormone disruption. It does these things – temporarily – in people who are caffeine naïve – but it has no negative effects on people with some caffeine tolerance.
Even further than neutral, repeated exposure to caffeine helps improve long-term regulatory processes in the brain around stress. This means that it’s not only not bad when used in responsible doses but may be directly positive for mood and stress management.
The main risks around coffee are poor timing and dose and improper use in combination with other compounds.
For example, you shouldn’t take caffeine and creatine together, as they can have contradictory effects. On the other hand, you should combine your caffeine with either carbohydrates or L-theanine, which improves the total effects.
You may experience personal risk factors for side effects like jitters, headaches, and digestive discomfort.
These aren’t going to harm your bodybuilding journey directly and are relatively low-risk, especially when you control the timing and dose, as mentioned above.
How Does Caffeine Benefit Bodybuilding?
Caffeine is a popular form of pre-workout ingredient because it improves performance in almost all types of training. It improves metabolic and mental performance, boosting wakefulness and resilience to distractions, and improves your nervous system response to improve power, speed, and reaction times.
Caffeine stimulates metabolism, which can be useful for bodybuilding training and general wellbeing.
It improves the uptake of blood sugar and fats for energy purposes, directly boosting your energy availability and kinetics of these important fuels in the body.
These are beneficial for exercise – where you need more energy – and for the combined benefits of caffeine and exercise.
It extends performance and time-to-exhaustion in strength-endurance and endurance exercise – perfect for weightlifters, bodybuilders, and endurance athletes alike.
Finally, it has great synergies with carbohydrates to improve workout performance.
Eating your carbs and caffeine together improves both the physical and mental effects, leaving you with significantly improved energy levels, strength, and power.
Benefits of Caffeine for Bodybuilding
Caffeine is a two-edged sword for bodybuilding, where it has major benefits that you can leverage if you’re responsible and focus on the proper timing and dose.
The most important benefits of caffeine are:
- Improves workout performance and longevity
- It supports better metabolism and energy availability
- It combines perfectly with other nutrients that can improve workouts or mental performance
- Improves a wide range of mental benefits independently of workouts and bodybuilding
- It can be a perfect addition to improve workout performance in the mornings or after work
Risks of Caffeine for Bodybuilding
The main risk of caffeine for bodybuilding is interrupting sleep or relaxing time.
These aren’t after-thoughts: they’re the time your body needs to turn your diet and exercise habits into muscle mass – and being too wakeful and energetic can compromise quality.
For example, late caffeine use can cause sleep latency (taking longer to sleep) and increase sleep anxiety, which reduces the restful benefits of sleep. These make it a risk for late-night drinking or residual levels if you’re taking in too much caffeine throughout the day.
The dose and timing are key here, and coffee – and its caffeine – can be used responsibly.
Consider using tea instead of coffee after a certain time (3 pm or 6 hours before you start to think about sleep) to prevent these side effects and harm your results.
Health Benefits and Secondary Ingredients in Coffee
Aside from caffeine, Coffee is packed with compounds that are less obvious in their effects – but powerful antioxidative and anti-inflammatory. These include things like Caffeic acid and chlorogenic lactone, which are both great for cell health.
The benefits of these compounds are less obvious than caffeine but wider-reaching.
They have direct benefits to cell health, where they reduce the negative effects of aging and improve your cell’s resilience to stress from exercise, the environment, and other foods in your diet. This makes them a great choice for health and wellbeing – in the widest sense.
These changes reduce your aging rate and indirectly improve your metabolic health and other systems.
Caffeic acid is interesting for how it may improve metabolism and reduce the risk of diabetes, combining anti-inflammatory and glucose benefits and being one of the most important mood-improving aspects of coffee and lowering blood pressure.
These are great compounds for all-round health and work well with the other compounds in coffee to ensure better health and blunt some of the ‘theoretical’ drawbacks of coffee (like blood pressure and adrenergic side effects).
These all have benefits to bodybuilding – like the improvements in endurance and beating mental fatigue. They’re also generally useful when improving mood, health, and metabolic well-being.
These benefits are particularly potent when cutting to get the most out of your food and diet – increasing insulin sensitivity and nutrient sensitivity while guarding against cutting negatives.
Quercetin: Neuroprotection and Synergist
Quercetin is another anti-inflammatory and antioxidative compound, but it’s specifically useful for neuroprotective benefits. These are what helps coffee drinkers age slower and with better health markers than their non-drinking counterpart.
This is one of the better benefits of quercetin, especially since it counteracts some of the more intense brain demands you’ll put on yourself through heavy dieting and cutting.
Dehydration, carb cycling, and comp prep are intense on your metabolism and brain – and quercetin is good for both.
Remember that you have to take care of yourself – quercetin helps bodybuilding in general terms but protects you from the effects on your brain. It’s a simple way to add some protection to your diet for the long-term health of your brain and body.
Quercetin is particularly important in coffee as a synergist that improves the positive effects of everything else in the drink. It improves the absorption of everything in coffee, with specific benefits to things like Catechol and antioxidant compounds.
Coffee vs. Muscle Soreness: Analgesic Effects for Bodybuilding
One of our favorite benefits of coffee is the combined analgesic – or pain-relief – effects of the drink.
Through the combined anti-inflammatory and neural effects, it can reduce the feelings of fatigue, soreness, and stiffness that come from tough workouts.
This can be a real blessing when you’re struggling with DOMS and have another training session. There are times when that morning coffee and a quick 5-minute stretch is what you need to get into that day of work or morning training session.
The quality of life benefits from coffee and bodybuilding are great, especially when trying to offset the aches. This is twice as important during cutting, where energy levels are low, recovery will be limited, and the soreness and fatigue start to add up.
A coffee and movement might be what you need to get back on the horse and put in more good training.
Coffee’s Stimulant Effects on Bodybuilding
Coffee’s stimulatory effects come from caffeine, chlorogenic acid, and other compounds. It’s the most popular stimulant, perfect for relieving tiredness and preparing your mind and body for intense training.
The main benefits of workouts are mental performance and nervous system effects. These improve your strength, power, and endurance, perfect for bodybuilding.
The goal is to build work capacity and training volume as many high-quality, heavy reps as possible.
Equally, the metabolic benefits improve endurance, which can be useful for recovery and cardio during cutting phases.
While cutting weight, also offsets the obvious low-energy risks of eating less. This makes (black) coffee your best friend when you’re trying to get shredded, and the metabolic and workout benefits.
Coffee, Stimulant Load, and Risks for Bodybuilding
This is also the main risk of caffeine and coffee for bodybuilding: it’s easy to reduce your restfulness in sleep and low-activity times due to psychomotor stimulation.
Caffeine has a 6-hour half-life and can easily stay in your system longer than intended if you’re not using that energy for exercise or intense mental effort.
Plan your caffeine intake with consideration that it’s heavy with stimulants. The FDA recommends no more than 450mg of caffeine a day, which should be your guiding principle and offers a good place to measure your intake.
Coffee: Does It Have Risks?
Coffee has risks when overused or treated without proper care for the stimulant load.
These are less risky than other possible caffeine sources – like caffeine powder or high-caffeine energy drinks – but they’re still real and considerable.
The adrenergic effects need to be considered for first-time and naïve users, who are far more intense. You’ll build tolerance and get better effects over time as you become more adapted to coffee use, but it will be quite the shock for early use.
It’s also important not to use coffee to crutch poor dietary, sleep, or exercise habits.
You may ignore the most important recovery factors if you’re not careful – and this can easily cause larger problems like poor muscle gains, hormonal damage, or dietary deficiency.
Don’t let caffeine become your excuse to get everything else wrong.
Finally, and most importantly, don’t let caffeine ruin your sleep quality. It’s so important, and most people are already neglecting sleep for bodybuilding.
Coffee intake should have a hard limit in the afternoon to prevent sleep loss, deprivation, or loss of sleep quality – all of which can happen with improper coffee intake.
Bodybuilding and Coffee FAQ
Is Coffee Good for Muscle Building?
Coffee is good for muscle building by improving workout performance and volume capacity. It can be a problem for muscle building if it interrupts a healthy sleep pattern or is used instead of a good diet and sleep.
Is Coffee Harmful for Bodybuilding?
Coffee can be harmful to bodybuilding when the user profile is poor: too much coffee, too late in the day, or as part of a poor overall diet.
The metabolic benefits don’t always out-perform the temptation to eat less, be sleepless, or ignore the important habits that build permanent results. It’s worth closely monitoring these factors when you have a high caffeine intake, especially when maximizing muscle gains.
Best Coffee for Muscle Gain?
The best coffee for muscle gains is anything that includes secondary, synergistic compounds like L-Theanine or Cordyceps.
Theanine is a caffeine synergist that improves your total benefits – to wakefulness and performance – and offsets any potential risks of side effects like jitters or headaches.
Equally, cordyceps is a simple but powerful secondary compound that can drastically improve your health and mental performance. It’s a huge mood-booster and has some great anecdotal reports for energy and cognition.
It’s also a great source of beta-carbinol, perfect for anti-cancer effect, and is like a concentrated form of the best compounds in broccoli and other green veg.
Is Coffee Good for You?
Coffee is good for most people’s health, and it is primarily associated with good changes in health. These are mostly around the improved metabolism and energy levels it produces, the antioxidant effects of secondary compounds, and the neuroprotective effects of compounds like quercetin.
You can use coffee for health, but it can also be bad for health when it disrupts other habits and routines – like sleep.
Coffee is a good, nutritious drink for improving energy levels and well-being but needs to be properly worked in your diet, like any other food or drink.
How Much Caffeine Per Day for Bodybuilding?
According to the FDA, the recommended caffeine intake per day is 450mg.
Bodybuilders often consume higher levels to seek the performance benefits of caffeine, which are often associated with pre-workouts (more than coffee itself).
There are some extra benefits to this, but you should ensure you’re not overdoing it. While bodybuilders may be able to make more use of caffeine (like many other nutrients), you still need to stay close to this recommendation and only increase intake slowly.
How to Take Your Coffee for Bodybuilding and Health?
Take coffee regularly – ideally black – specifically in the mornings.
Afternoon coffee should be reduced and replaced with tea wherever possible, except pre-workout coffee, which shouldn’t have as many negative effects on your sleep (the workout will offset some of the stimulatory effects).
It’s simply one more balance to strike between improving performance in workouts and improving post-workout recovery. Prioritizing one too much will harm the other.
Conclusion – Coffee and Bodybuilding
Bodybuilding and coffee can be a match made in heaven if you’re conscious of how much you’re consuming and when.
Proper use helps you put coffee to work for you, while improper use starts to sabotage other areas of your bodybuilding habits – exercise, sleep, diet, and restorative time.
The difference between good and bad coffee is usually just how much, when, and what you’re taking it with. These make more difference than coffee itself, typically just a healthy and effective way to improve workout performance, mental freshness, and overall wellbeing.
Coffee isn’t going to harm your bodybuilding journey – but you can harm it yourself with coffee.
It’s just another type of drink, like anything else, and there are contextual factors like dose and timing that – like all foods and drinks – can be too much or out of place.
Be smart – put coffee to work for you, and don’t let it ruin the most important parts of your routine.