Coffee vs Pre-Workout

Determining Which Caffeinated Drink Is Better Before Exercise

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: September 24, 2023

Getting some caffeine in your system before a workout has many benefits. Including boosting energy, delaying fatigue, and even burning fat.

But is the caffeine from a cup of coffee the same as what you get from a pre-workout supplement? And which is better to take before exercise?

In this article, I compare the ingredients, benefits, and results you get from drinking coffee vs pre-workout before you hit the gym.

Coffee vs Pre-Workout

Coffee & Pre-Workout Defined

This article will compare black coffee with no cream or sugar to a standard pre-workout mix.

Coffee is a natural drink made by brewing roasted coffee beans that can boost energy levels. At the same time, pre-workout is a powdered drink mix with multiple ingredients that can increase physical performance and energy levels.

Let’s explore the similarities and differences between the two.

Coffee vs Pre-Workout Comparison

To make an informed comparison between coffee and pre-workout supplements, it’s essential to understand their composition and how they can enhance performance.

Both contain caffeine as their primary component, which acts as a stimulant to fight fatigue and increase alertness. However, the amount of caffeine in each can vary greatly.

Coffee’s caffeine content is determined by the strength of the brew, while pre-workout supplements’ caffeine content varies depending on the brand and serving size.

Caffeine in Coffee vs Pre-Workout

The amount of caffeine is measured in milligrams (mg for short). How much caffeine you should take depends on your body size, goals, and tolerance. But typical dosages range from 100 mg on the low end to 300 mg on the high end.

For sake of comparison, Table 1 shows the amount of caffeine in a large and small coffee of average strength. As well as the range of caffeine in 1 scoop of pre-workout.

Table 1. Coffee vs Pre-Workout Caffeine Content

Drink Type Caffeine Content
Coffee, 8 oz, 1 tbsp grounds 144 mg
Coffee, 16 oz, 2 tbsp grounds 288 mg
Pre-Workout, 1 scoop 223 mg

*Based on an average of 1.2% caffeine content of Arabica beans1 and 1 tablespoon (12 grams) per 8 ounces of water. (ex. 12 g x 0.012 x 1,000 mg/g = 144 mg). And average caffeine content of 1 serving of commercially available pre-workout supplements.

It’s worth noting that a small cup of coffee contains about the same amount of caffeine as a weak pre-workout supplement. Conversely, a large cup of coffee has caffeine levels comparable to the strongest pre-workout supplements.

However, it’s essential to remember that the amount of caffeine in coffee can differ depending on factors such as the type of beans, the roasting duration, and the brewing method.

Similarly, pre-workout supplements have varying caffeine levels depending on the brand, with other factors like powders settling and proprietary blends affecting the caffeine ratios in each scoop.

So, if you’re sensitive to caffeine, it’s best to be cautious and avoid consuming too much.

Amino Acids In Coffee vs Pre-Workout

One of the main differences between coffee and pre-workout supplements is amino acids.

In addition to caffeine, pre-workout supplements contain a range of amino acids for boosting performance in the gym. L-arginine (or citrulline), beta-alanine, and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are the most common.

It’s important to note that coffee does not contain these amino acids, while most pre-workout supplements do. But the amounts vary tremendously between brands, so check the label.

L-arginine or L-citrulline For Blood Flow

L-arginine is an amino acid that relaxes blood vessels and allows more blood to pass through. This temporary vascularity and muscle volume increase is called “the pump.”

With increased blood flow, more oxygen and nutrients get into the muscles. And that can enhance recovery and growth. For resistance training workouts, 5 grams is a suitable dosage.

L-citrulline works similarly to arginine to extend the pump and allow more strenuous training sessions, faster recovery, and potentially more significant muscle gain. The recommended dosage of citrulline is 2-6 grams.

Note: you don’t need to take both; take one or the other. I recommend l-citrulline because it doesn’t have a bitter taste.

Beta-Alanine For Performance

Beta-alanine delays fatigue by buffering the pH levels in the presence of lactic acid. This allows longer, more intense training sessions.

A meta-analysis showed that people supplementing with beta-alanine significantly increased their exercise capacity2. That is, the amount of time they could work before getting fatigued.

An effective dose of beta-alanine is 2-3 grams.

Coffee vs Pre-Workout Beta-Alanine

Coffee vs Pre-Workout: Which Is Better?

So far, we’ve compared the ingredients in coffee vs. pre-workout. But now I will give you an overall side-by-side comparison to help you determine which one better fits your needs.


As I’ve shown, coffee and pre-workout typically contain 100 to 300 milligrams of caffeine per serving.

With coffee, you can easily increase or decrease the caffeine in your cup based on the type and amount of beans or grounds you use. While you can also choose a pre-workout based on caffeine content, changing the amount to fit your needs is not as easy.

For this reason, I think coffee has an edge concerning getting the right amount of energy.


Performance can be improved with specific amino acids that delay fatigue and increase blood flow. Since coffee doesn’t naturally have those amino acids in any significant amount3, pre-workout supplements are superior to coffee for improving performance in the gym.

However, it would be best to look closely at the label before buying a pre-workout to ensure it has an adequate amount of each critical amino acid.

Coffee vs Pre-Workout Supplement

Nutricost pre-workout has an effective formulation at a reasonable price.


If you’re looking for a cost-effective way to get your caffeine fix, coffee is a great option. A cup of black coffee made from coffee grounds can cost as little as 10¢, which is equivalent to 15¢ for 200 mg of caffeine.

In comparison, pre-workout supplements typically cost between $1-2 depending on the brand and ingredients, which works out to about $1.50 for 200 mg of caffeine on average.

As you can see, coffee is approximately 10 times less expensive than pre-workout supplements when it comes to cost per mg of caffeine.

Other Factors

When deciding between coffee and pre-workout, it’s important to think about what you feel comfortable consuming. Black coffee has only one natural ingredient, making it a reliable choice. You can adjust any additional ingredients you add.

However, pre-workout supplements may contain many ingredients, including additives and fillers. Proprietary blends hide the real ingredients and their amounts, making it hard to know what you’re taking.

As a result, coffee is a safer option for those who are careful about what they put in their bodies.

Coffee vs Pre-Workout Infographic

Have you ever considered adding a few ingredients to your coffee to get the benefits of both a classic cup of coffee and a pre-workout drink? It’s possible! In fact, there are ways to do so without compromising the classic taste of coffee.

Coffee + Mushroom Extract

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Coffee PLUS Pre-Workout

Up to this point, we’ve been pitting coffee against pre-workout. But I’m going to show you how to combine coffee and pre-workout. This way, you gain the benefits of both, and you have control over the ingredients.

Coffee + Beta-Alanine + L-Citrulline

The best way to combine coffee and pre-workout is by buying the key ingredients and mixing them in your coffee. You can purchase beta-alanine and l-citrulline in bulk for only 10-20¢ per serving.

When you factor in the cost of coffee, you get a solid natural pre-workout for less than 50¢ per serving compared to $1.5 for brand name pre-workout. With that savings, you can add other ingredients like BCAAs or MCT oil.

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Coffee + Protein

Protein coffee is another way to combine coffee and nutrients before your workout. Icon protein coffee provides 150 mg of caffeine and 20 grams of protein.

So you get energy from the coffee and amino acids from the protein. You can also add beta-alanine and l-citrulline to make an all-in-one pre-workout shake.

Coffee vs Pre-Workout Protein Coffee

Another trick I use is buying unflavored whey protein and mixing it with coffee. That way, you get the flavor of your favorite coffee with added protein.

And you can add whatever amino acids you want to boost performance or mental focus—giving you the ultimate control over your coffee concoction.

Key Takeaways

  • Coffee is a natural, low-cost way to get caffeine and boost your energy
  • Coffee also gives you more control over how much caffeine you get
  • Pre-workout supplements combine caffeine and specific amino acids
  • Pre-workouts are better for boosting performance but cost more
  • You can add specific amino acids to your coffee to get the best of both worlds

More Supplement Information

When you’re looking for a natural energy boost without a bunch of expensive ingredients, grab a cup of coffee. But if you’re looking to optimize performance at the gym, a pre-workout supplement will work better for you.

At the end of the day, you don’t have to choose between coffee vs pre-workout. With a dash of beta-alanine and a teaspoon of l-citrulline, you can transform your coffee into a homemade pre-workout drink!

Check out my related content below for more supplement information.

Save 70% With Homemade Pre-Workout Recipe

Are Pre-Workout Gummies Worth the Money?

Does Pre-Workout Cause Acne? How to Avoid Workout Breakouts

Creatine vs Pre-Workout: Which Is Better Based On Your Goals

G Fuel vs Pre-Workout Ingredient & Dosage Comparison

Can Pre-Workout Cause Anxiety? How to Reduce Side Effects

If you’re looking for a change, I have an abundance of informative articles on various fitness-related topics like nutrition, workouts, and bodybuilding news.

Share with your community and get the conversation started!

By |September 24, 2023|Supplements|0 Comments
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