It has been reported that people are now more likely to consume caffeine on a daily basis than fruit. It may be the most widely used stimulant in the world, most commonly in the form of a variety of coffee drinks such as espresso and cappuccino. However, caffeine is a common ingredient in many other sources like tea, nutrition supplements, soft drinks, chocolate and energy drinks. Many people, like myself, consume caffeine daily for the love of a good cup of coffee and the stimulant effect it has on the brain. Others use it to aid performance or for suggested health benefits. While others have no idea how much caffeine they’re getting by knocking back all those soft and energy drinks!
Caffeine consumption for health and performance has been reasonably well researched, and in general, it’s not bad for you. It may actually be really good for you. While there’s still a ton of research that could be done, let’s look at what we do know.
Coffee or caffeine does NOT dehydrate you. In fact, caffeinated drinks contribute to your daily fluid intake. Research has shown that urine losses for people who consume high and low doses of caffeine are relatively the same as for people who consume no caffeine at all. Just as I have written in the past, the body’s hydration control system is finely tuned. You’d have to be very sick, in extreme environmental conditions, or consuming far above the average daily caffeine amount (200mg) to get dehydrated.
During nutrition consults and general discussion I often have people say that they need to cut out coffee to help with fat loss. If you’re drinking flavoured lattes, frappucinos and two sugars with that cappuccino, or have the biscuit every time you have coffee, then yes you need to cut out coffee to lose body fat. Or at least change your coffee drinking habits. Coffee has no calories – what you put in it or what you have with it contains the calories.
Energy drinks, pre-workout supplements and soft drinks do however contain sugar – real or artificial. Use with caution.
Performance and Recovery
Up until 2004 caffeine was a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). But after a lot of research examining habitual caffeine consumption and consumption specifically for performance, it was dropped from the list of banned substances. Caffeine remains one of the most tested ergogenic aids and is still widely used by athletes of all sporting codes and at all levels of competition.
Studies show that caffeine can improve endurance performance by about 12%, enhances mental focus and acuity, and also reduces perceived exertion. These effects are greater in athletes who rarely drink caffeine because they are less tolerant to it’s effects. Everyone, however, responds differently to caffeine. So if you don’t drink coffee much and decide to use it before an event or even just before a workout, nausea, the jitters, and anxiety are common!
We also know that caffeine may help mobilising fat stores for use as fuel, thereby delaying muscle glycogen depletion. This partly explains why caffeine as a performance aid is better for longer bouts of activity. It also indicates the benefits of caffeine consumption for fat loss. An interesting study showed that caffeine consumption with a carbohydrate-based drink four hours after exercise significantly improved muscle glycogen compared to a carbohydrate only drink. This could speed up the recovery process post-training.
So, it’s legal and potentially really good for you. I do however suggest you get your fix primarily from (good) coffee – not instant coffee – while limiting consumption of energy and soft drinks as a source of caffeine. Thanks to all the research and all the coffee nuts out there, there are so many types of coffee that are easily prepared. One of the most common coffee recipes today is bulletproof coffee. A quick search will quickly give you an insight into its origins and original recipe. I have been starting my day with a cup of that goodness for years now, and was recently shown a bunch of different recipes to try out – some healthy and some treats. I’m going to be making my way through them. Check them out here: Bulletproof Coffee Recipes.