I’ve wanted to write an article about the health benefits of coffee for a while now, but have been putting it off, just in case I discovered it was actually really bad for us, and I would be forced to stop drinking it!
My morning wouldn’t be complete without at least 2 cups of black coffee (no sugar), preferably made from freshly ground coffee beans. (Carefully selected from
Italy my local supermarket)
Just the smell is enough to perk you up.
However, over the years we’ve been bombarded with conflicting studies and reports suggesting it is both beneficial and detrimental to our health.
So who’s right, who’s wrong, and will it help you add another 10kg’s to your bench press?!
Here’s what we know about coffee..
The Caffeine Effect
One thing is for certain – coffee beans contain a significant amount of caffeine, and it is the caffeine that has an immediate effect on us.
A typical cup of drip-brewed coffee has around 100 to 200 milligrams of caffeine, depending on the roast and type of bean.
Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and is one of the reasons so many of us enjoy the ‘kick’ or ‘buzz’ it gives us first thing in the morning.
If you really want to know the science behind how caffeine affects the brain, check out this comprehensive article – ‘what caffeine actually does to your brain‘
This pleasure or ‘buzz’ stimulus, as well as the habit of a morning coffee, explains why people become addicted to coffee.
Coffee And Adrenalin
But that’s not the only psychological effect caffeine has on us.
The adenosine neurotransmitter (which caffeine binds within the brain), is also responsible for the ‘calming effect’ in the body.
Caffeine’s interaction with adenosine causes the body to release the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ hormone – adrenaline.
Adrenaline increases your heart rate, forces increased blood flow into your muscles, dilates your pupils, and releases glucose into the bloodstream for extra energy.
So by activating the adrenaline hormone, caffeine makes us feel good, more alert, provides our muscles with increased blood flow, and gives us a boost in energy.
Coffee and Fitness
It stands to reason then, if caffeine is responsible for increased blood flow to muscles and provides a boost in energy, it is going to benefit our workouts.
New research is uncovering some interesting findings regarding coffee consumption and improved fitness and athletic performance.
A study by The British Journal of Sports Science revealed that participants who drank coffee before completing 1500 meters run on a treadmill, finished on average over 4 seconds faster than those who didn’t.
Another study published in Sports Medicine refers to caffeine as a “powerful ergogenic aid,” and reports that athletes can “train at a greater power output and/or train longer” after caffeine consumption.
The Olympic Committee has actually placed a urinary limit of 12mg/mL.
An excess of this level of caffeine in an athlete’s system leads to disqualification and a ban.
This is roughly 600mg – 800mg of caffeine or 4 to 7 cups of coffee within a 30 minute period.
Although 4 to 7 cups seem excessive, it shows that caffeine, even in smaller doses, is a performance-enhancing substance, and one which is perfectly legal and without danger to the rest of us mere mortals.
Coffee May Boost Mental and Physical Strength
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research measured mood state and physical strength following consumption of a caffeine drink.
Thirteen men who regularly participated in strength training were given 179mg of a caffeinated drink (approx the same amount of caffeine found in a strong cup of filtered coffee) or a placebo solution.
One hour later they were asked to perform bench press, deadlift, prone row, and back-squat exercises, at 60% of their 1-rep max, to failure.
They repeated the experiment after taking the caffeine drink or the placebo.
Across all exercises, participants were able to complete more repetitions to failure when they took the caffeine drink.
Not only were they able to increase the number of reps after caffeine, but the perceived effort they felt in performing the exercises was also significantly less, and they felt more motivated to complete the workout.
So yes..drinking coffee might just add another 10kg’s to your bench press!
How long before a workout should you drink coffee?
Caffeine gets into your system within minutes, so a cup of joe 20 minutes before a workout should hit the spot at the right time.
Coffee and Muscle Soreness
Apparently, caffeine can alleviate the soreness you experience in your muscles during intensive exercise.
A small study from the University of Illinois involving 25 college-aged men revealed that taking a caffeine pill measuring 5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (equivalent to 2 to 3 cups of coffee) prior to a 30-minute intensive bike ride, resulted in moderately reduced quad pain.
Professor Robert Moti who led the research said that:
“We’ve shown that caffeine reduces pain reliably, consistently during cycling, across different intensities, across different people, different characteristics. But does that reduction in pain translates into an improvement in sports performance?”
Moti goes on to say: “One of the things that may be a practical application, is if you go to the gym and you exercise and it hurts, you may be prone to stop doing that because pain is an aversive stimulus that tells you to withdraw.
So if we could give people a little caffeine and reduce the amount of pain they’re experiencing, maybe that would help them stick with that exercise.”
Naturally, if you’re exercising and it’s causing you pain, your natural instinct is to stop or slow down.
By suppressing part of that pain with caffeine you could potentially push yourself harder and achieve more.
The case for caffeine as an effective stimulant and its ability to enhance physical performance is pretty clear.
More research certainly needs to be conducted to confirm that the caffeine found in coffee beans has the same physiological effect as pure caffeine.
I have read older studies that suggest the numerous compounds found in coffee beans interfere with the way caffeine reacts in the body, making it less effective as an ergogenic source.
Even more so when sugar and cream is added.
Coffee is also not to everyone’s liking (poor souls).
So to get the benefits from caffeine in order to enhance your physical performance, without drinking coffee, you can take a caffeine supplement.
The leading brand on Amazon which has excellent reviews is the Prolab Caffeine. You get a 200mg kick of caffeine per pill – equivalent to 1 to 2 cups of coffee.
You can buy them from health stores or online, and they are pretty cheap too!
It only takes around 15-20 minutes to feel the effects/benefits of caffeine pills.
Health Benefits of Coffee
As well as the mental and physical stimulus coffee provides, research has also shown it can help protect the body from serious health conditions.
This has more to do with the numerous compounds and antioxidants found in coffee, rather than the caffeine.
According to studies published in the Harvard Medical School, moderate coffee consumption was shown to have the following significant health benefits:
Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School Alberto Ascherio, has been studying coffee’s potential anti-Parkinson’s effects that were first suggested in a 2001 study’s findings.
That study, of which Dr. Ascherio was the lead author, showed that drinking four or five cups of coffee daily cut the risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease nearly in half compared with little or no caffeine consumption.
Drinking coffee is not a cure or treatment for diabetes.
In fact, it could be more problematic for people who already have diabetes because in the short term coffee increases both glucose and insulin levels.
The problem is compounded if you add cream (or milk) and sugar.
On the other hand, evidence suggests that drinking coffee significantly reduces the likelihood of ever developing diabetes.
This could be because coffee contains a large number of chemicals and compounds that react in a way we don’t fully understand yet.
A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition links coffee with a 30 percent reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
“The exact reason why hasn’t been established, but certain animal studies suggest coffee may reduce excess liver glucose output,” says Rob van Dam, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and public health at the National University of Singapore.
A more recent and comprehensive study published in the Diabetologia is starting to generate discussion.
Researchers at Harvard tracked over 100,000 people for about 20 years.
They concentrated on a four-year period.
They found that people who increased their coffee intake by over one cup per day had an 11 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
However, people who reduced their coffee intake by one cup per day increased their risk of developing diabetes by 17 percent.
“Coffee is a potent antioxidant,” says Stephanie Middleberg, RD, founder of Middleberg Nutrition in New York City.
“In fact, the average American actually gets more antioxidants from coffee than from fruits or vegetables.”
That’s either worrying that so many people don’t eat enough fruit and veg, or pleasing because of the high levels of antioxidants found in coffee!
Either way, antioxidants improve your body’s ability to block the activity of chemicals known as ‘free radicals’ that damage cells, and can cause certain cancers and heart disease.
In 2005 research showed that coffee drinkers were half as likely to get liver cancer as non-coffee drinkers.
The February 2006 edition of the Harvard Medical School publication also states that other studies showed ties with lower rates of colon, breast, and rectal cancers.
In a Harvard video entitled “How Coffee Loves Us Back” (good name for an article title! ;))Dr. Ascherio says coffee drinkers have an approximately 10 to 15 percent lower mortality rate.
He attributes this to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory chemicals in coffee, such as chlorogenic acid which is one of the richest antioxidants.
Dr. Chopra observes that coffee consumption seems to diminish the risk of developing 5 different types of cancer, and the positive effect is not realized from the caffeine content in tea.
So it’s “something about coffee,” and says if you start with half a cup a day and work yourself up to two cups, “you’re all set.”
Health Risks To Drinking Coffee
Like most foods and drinks we enjoy, scientists usually let us know why they are also bad for us!
Coffee is no exception, and over the years has been cited as a contributing cause of various medical conditions including heart disease and even cancer.
Recent studies however reveal that there is no connection between coffee consumption and these serious conditions.
Previous studies that suggested otherwise, involved already vulnerable groups who naturally drank coffee along with smoking or drinking heavily.
Like any type of stimulant, moderation is always the key.
According to the MayoClinic drinking, more than 4 cups of coffee a day can lead to health problems such as anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and problems sleeping, particularly in susceptible individuals.
With regular consumption, your central nervous system develops a dependency on the substance that can produce painful experiences of withdrawal.
Like a headache or migraine, caffeine withdrawal symptoms can include dizziness, sharp head pains, sensitivity to noise, anxiety and irritability.
Excessive caffeine intake can also disrupt sleep patterns, heart rate, and mood.
The good news is; recent studies suggest
our my favorite drink has more health and fitness benefits than potential risks – hurray to that!
The free radical fighting ability of the potent antioxidants found in coffee seems to be the biggest health benefit.
For the average person, a cup of coffee in the morning (or before your workout) may help you train harder, lift more, or run further.
It seems best to keep it down to drinking 3 or 4 cups a day and watch out for the symptoms of over-consumption.
On a personal note, I haven’t noticed any difference in my performance or ability to lift heavier weights, after my 1 cup of fresh coffee in the morning.
However, I might try a little experiment where I abstain from coffee for a week and then re-introduce it before my workout, and note any differences in performance.
I might also try taking a caffeine supplement – especially as they are inexpensive.
But more importantly, I can continue to drink my freshly ground coffee, guilt-free, knowing that it is doing me ‘good’ rather than ‘harm’ – phew!
I expect many of you have an opinion or experience regarding coffee and its health and fitness benefits.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.