Go Ahead…Love Your Coffee

Just like many of you, I love coffee.  But, as an athlete and as a Health Coach, I’ve come to appreciate coffee as more than just part of my morning ritual.

As we discovered earlier, despite its diuretic effects, coffee is not a dehydrating agent.  This is good news, particularly to athletes who may choose caffeine as a way to give them the energy boost they need to power through a workout.  So, what benefits can coffee provide when it comes to athletic performance?

Caffeine, the reason most of us drink coffee in the first place, is a neurostimulant.  A neurostimulant acts on the body by exciting the central nervous system and creating feelings of increased energy, focus, and concentration.  These properties make coffee seem like an obvious choice to provide an advantage when it comes to an endurance event.  Thousands of runners, myself included, can attest to the advantage a cup of coffee can provide when tackling an early morning race.  But, that cup of coffee does more than put an extra spring in your step.  Scientists have discovered that coffee also boosts the endorphin response exercise provides, reducing muscle pain and essentially making exercise more pleasurable.  Sounds like a win – win situation to me.  Caffeine can also be a mood enhancer providing a sense of well-being, happiness, energy, alertness and sociability.  Coffee makes us happy…that isn’t just your imagination.

So, how much caffeine are we talking to reap the aforementioned benefits?  Not nearly as much as you may think.  To boost performance and make exercise more pleasurable, approximately 100 mg – the amount in an ordinary 8 ounce cup of brewed coffee or 1.5 shots of espresso.  To make the world seem like a happier place, double it to approximately 200 mg or 16 ounces brewed coffee or 3 shots of espresso.

Read more about caffeine and performance here at Mark’s Daily Apple.

But, coffee can do more than lift our mood and improve our workouts.  Coffee itself is full of antioxidants, polyphenols, and flavonoids that prevent oxidative stress caused by free radicals in the body.  Free radicals break down important chemicals in the cells of the body, including collagen (read: wrinkled skin – damage you can see) and your DNA (read: cancer, etc. – damage you can not see).  Emerging research also suggests that these antioxidants and the additional minerals found in brewed coffee can also help prevent Type 2 diabetes.  The caffeine in coffee also keeps dopamine molecules in the brain active preventing the onset of diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimers.

Read more about how caffeine can prevent Parkinson’s here and Alzheimer’s here.

The adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys.

Image via Wikipedia

Just remember there is such thing as “too much of a good thing.”  As a neurostimulant caffeine can have some adverse side effects when it is used in excess.  One of the most problematic in my opinion is adrenal fatigue.  Your stress hormones are produced by your adrenal glands.  Every time you are stressed, your adrenal glands secrete stress hormones very much like every time your blood sugar increases, your pancreas secretes insulin.  Caffeine elicits a stress response in the body requiring the adrenal glands to secrete stress hormones.  If you already lead a high stress lifestyle (remember we are talking more than just your perceived daily stress – poor food choices are particularly stressful on the body) too much caffeine merely compounds the issue and requires more of the adrenal glands than they may be able to handle.  And, honestly, the last thing any of us need is more stress!

Abuse of caffeine can also cause gastrointestinal upset by increasing the HCl (hydrochloric acid) production of the stomach and relaxing the sphincter at the base of the esophagus.  This relaxed sphincter may allow the contents of the stomach to reflux back into the esophagus.  But, for most of us a single cup in the morning is enough to “get things going” in a good way.  Too much caffeine can also inhibit the absorption of, and cause the excretion of minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron.  Excreted calcium, in women, can lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis and magnesium deficiency (in addition to stress) can result in high blood pressure in both sexes.

So, when is enough enough, or maybe too much?

  1. Treat coffee like a treat, not like your all day go-to beverage of choice.  (FYI: Your go-to beverage of choice should always be…drum roll, please….you guessed it….WATER!)  While it is true that coffee itself does not dehydrate you, it is no replacement for water!
  2. In the morning have one, maybe two, cups as part of your morning ritual.  Take the time to enjoy it.  You’ll get so much more out of your coffee, and “need” it less, when you take the time to enjoy it instead of using it like a mid-air refuel.
  3. If you choose to drink coffee in the afternoon end your daily caffeine consumption my 3 pm so you can get a good night sleep.  If you are taking the time to make or buy this afternoon re-boot, be sure to take the time to enjoy it.
  4. Don’t pollute it with fake flavored creamers and sugar.  Choose high quality coffee, and if possible drink it black.  Don’t use your coffee as an excuse to feed your sugar addiction 🙂

I must let you in on a secret here – I don’t (often) drink my coffee black.  I usually take it with a dollop of heavy cream (whipping cream).  See, back in the day I was a CoffeeMate addict. But, when I began to clean up my diet, I had to clean up my coffee and end my love affair with CoffeeMate.  At first it was hard, and I didn’t enjoy my coffee as much as I had.  But, when the sugar addiction finally let go, and I got some high quality coffee to drink, I found I enjoyed it even more that I had with the CoffeeMate.  The brew that got me to love  coffee just as it is – a Cafe Americano  (Thank you, Dr. Ryan).  It isn’t a traditional brewed coffee – it is espresso and hot water and absolutely delicious.   I always drink my Americanos black, but my brewed coffee still needed a little something.  Enter the heavy cream.  With heavy cream I get the creaminess I’ve always loved but without most of the irritating components of milk because heavy cream is mostly fat.

Here is someone who takes his morning coffee to the next level…the “Bulletproof” level.  I must admit I tried it…and it was very good…but I didn’t use anywhere close to the 2/3 of a stick of butter he recommends.  Nor do I think I ever would.

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