Nutrition / Pre & Post Workout

Coffee vs. Energy Drinks vs. Pre-Workout: Which is Right for You?

In an attempt to get the energy jolt we’re craving in order to carry on with our day and ensure we complete that workout, many of us reach for certain beverages, namely coffee, energy drinks and Pre-Workout—but which is right for you?

Chances are, you know that exercise is important and that you should aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, per the American Heart Association’s (AHA) guidelines. However, fitting it into our busy and hectic lifestyles isn’t always easy, especially when we’re exerting so much effort and energy into other areas of our lives such as our work or social lives.

Energy is an important resource that few of us seem to have enough of, yet it’s something we need in order to muster up the gusto to workout and to carry us through the process. “The more energy you have the more you can get done and the more energy you have the better you feel,” explains Jordan Hosbein, National Academy of Sports Medicine-certified personal trainer and owner of Iron and Grit. “On the flip side, the reason we feel a need for energy is because we scatter our energy across many, many things throughout the day—i.e. the constant stimulation brought on by our tech-infused society drains our energy over time.”

In an attempt to get the energy jolt we’re craving in order to carry on with our day and ensure we complete that workout, many of us reach for certain beverages, namely coffee, energy drinks and Pre-Workout—AKA dry protein-rich powders that get mixed with water. Of course, each has their own set of pros and cons, so we reached out to the experts to better understand what each has to offer and which is best for you.


Perhaps the most OG energy booster out there, coffee is a beverage made through straining water over ground coffee beans. Because it’s rich in caffeine, it delivers the stimulant right to the bloodstream and brain giving a welcomed boost of energy. According to Hosbein, coffee is best for people who need a small boost of energy or to kick start their day. “It should be used just to get going, and not to sustain or red-line your engine, as too much can tax your adrenals, unrest digestion and disrupt sleep,” he says. “A cup or two of black coffee in the morning, however, should be fine for most people.”

What you put into your coffee matters. He recommends against overdoing it on heavy creams, sugars and artificial flavoring. “If you need cream, use real fresh cream,” he adds.

Energy drinks

Energy drinks are a type of beverage that contains caffeine in the same way as coffee, however they often have other substances added that may work in synergy with caffeine to make it feel like it’s working harder, explains Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., doctor of nutrition and owner of eatrightfitness. “This may give you a more intense response, and those that are sensitive to stimulants should not consume these products,” he says.

If you’re looking for a stronger pick-me-up than coffee, he notes that an energy drink may be a good option, however, he recommends the reduced-calorie or lower-sugar varieties. “The regular ones can weigh in over 300 calories and will likely negatively impact your diet with that many liquid calories,” he says.


These dry protein-rich powders are shelf stable and are meant to be mixed with water before a training session. They tend to give the biggest jolt, however, are often loaded with not-so-great ingredients such as beta-alanine, creatine and L-citrulline. “Beta-alanine reduces the burning sensation from lactic acid build up, so you can squeeze out extra reps, creatine increases your muscle supply of ATP which is an energy source for your muscles and L-citrulline dilates blood vessels which improves blood flow and oxygen delivery to your body tissues,” says Hosbein.

Due to the effects of these ingredients, pre-workout is usually not good for anyone, however, Hosbein points out that it is effective if your goal is to have a more intense workout. “Consistent use of some pre-workouts can cause a build up of heavy metals and free radicals in your body which is bad for your system and overall health, so use them sparingly and with caution,” he says. “Pre-workout is for the people who are really into their training.”

Natural energy sources to try instead

Luckily there are other, more natural sources of energy that don’t come from coffee, pre-workout, or energy drinks. The first is a clean, wholesome diet rich in nutrients. “Bad food gives you little nutrition and is loaded with fake ingredients that your body has a hard time processing, meaning it uses up your precious energy without replacing it, leaving you in an energy deficit,” he says. The solution? He recommends eating the best, healthiest food you can find—fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and legumes for starters.

Another great all-natural energy boost comes in the form of a healthy sleeping environment. “Noise and light pollution, blue light, screen time, electronics, a poor diet and stimulants all wreak havoc on sleep and energy levels as a result,” says Hosbein. “It’s very important to prioritize sleep in order to recharge your battery as best you can.” He recommends trying to get a solid 7 hours of deep, restful, uninterrupted sleep to give you energy and the time to physically recover from your efforts.

Nutrition Pre & Post Workout


Welcome to the guidebook to your healthiest life. Aaptiv delivers the highest quality fitness and health information from personal trainers and industry experts. Subscribe now for a weekly dose of inspiration and education.

I would like to receive weekly fitness articles and inspiration from Aaptiv Magazine.

Please click the checkbox to subscribe.