Coffee: WHY It’s Awesome and WHEN It’s Not.
There must be a story almost every day, in the press or on the super-reliable source that is the internet (!), describing how coffee is either the elixir of life or conversely, the Devil’s poison. Today – rewriting a popular article I wrote a couple of years ago – I hope to clear up a few of the myths, legends, falsehoods and exaggerations so that you can make a balanced judgement on whether coffee is for you… or not.
Firstly, there is coffee and there is coffee. Coffee is one of the last bitter herbs that we consume in the modern diet, which contains high levels of antioxidants; so if drunk in moderation, prepared properly and drunk at the right time, it can be a health benefit rather than a negative.
Secondly, coffee is awesome. There I said it. It tastes just amazing and makes you feel soooo good. So let’s find a solution to include it on a regular basis… deal? But please, read on. Coffee has the potential to not be awesome at all. In fact it can hinder your goals and your life in general if you don’t use it wisely…
Thirdly. Coffee is awesome. There I said it again.
So, why is it AWESOME P.Dub? Great question, thanks for asking.
How you prepare your coffee is very important. Coffee is packed full of great antioxidants and you can maximise these by brewing with a percolator or French press… BUT, this method will increase the compound cafestol which has been shown to elevate cholesterol levels, so again beware if you have high cholesterol. This problem can be averted by using green coffee bean extract to get the fat burning and antioxidant benefits without worrying about the cafestol effect.
The best way to prepare your coffee is from a drip filter or stove-top, where maximum caffeine is retained. With the advent of certain espresso capsules taking over the globe (although they taste great), the caffeine we glean from coffee is actually quite low and the coffee beans far from fresh. If we’re going to drink coffee (in my humble opinion), we may as well drink the good stuff, no? Maximum freshness, maximum taste, maximum density of antioxidants, maximum amount of caffeine.
It is often stated that caffeine is a diuretic and causes dehydration. Research now shows that caffeine is much less of a diuretic than previously thought and even though it does lower one’s insulin sensitivity, the effect is not chronic in healthy individuals. However if you consume coffee with starches (carbohydrates), such as that naughty pain au chocolat, then this can cause problems for people with insulin resistance or diabetes.
2. DECREASING RISK OF CANCER
Researchers have hypothesised that the high antioxidant activity in coffee lowers oxidative stress, and that coffee also up-regulates the expression of enzymes in the liver that help metabolise oestrogen down the healthiest 2-hydroxyestrone pathway. This is a much preferred pathway for detoxifying oestrogen from the body and it plays a role in preventing oestrogen-related cancers such as breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer in men.
It is specifically the antioxidants caffeic and chlorogenic acid in coffee are the big protectors against cancer and other disease. An example of how the antioxidants lower cancer risk is with endometrial cancer, which is a cancer of the lining of the uterus. A study with over 67,000 women demonstrated that women drinking 4 or more cups of coffee per day had a 25% lower risk than those who didn’t drink coffee regularly.
Although solid studies with significant results are few and far between in this area, they are on there way (as many promising and robust studies were published last year and early this year) and what is sure is that the caffeine in coffee does not cause cancer. Everything points the other way completely.
It is well known (despite recent pseudo-scientific studies that tried hard – not hard enough – to poo-poo this one) that the epinephrine in caffeine perks you up and raises your metabolism and therefore a pre-workout coffee will enable you to work harder and perform better in the fitness arena.
Plus, caffeine increases fat burning during your workout by mobilising the fatty acids and burning them for fuel during exercise. So if ever you are to drink coffee – prepare it well, with fresh coffee, and drink it in the 30-45 minutes before you exercise. This will also serve to improve levels of power, focus and concentration during the workout.
4. BLOOD PRESSURE AND VASCULAR HEALTH
Caffeine in coffee has recently been shown to improve the health of the blood vessels as it increases nitric oxide production in the endothelium (the thin cell layer that lines the interior surface of all blood vessels), which improves vascular muscle tone also. Coffee also increases arterial pressure, serving to lower blood pressure over the long-term.
Of course, drinking coffee can increase blood pressure acutely (in the short-term) but once the caffeine is metabolised, blood pressure will return to normal in a matter of minutes or hours. One study found that 8 weeks of habitual coffee drinking actually lowered blood pressure readings by a significant amount.
But, P.Dub, you said it can be “NOT-SO-AWESOME”. Why is that? Another great question. And once again, thanks for asking. You are as astute as you are good-looking.
1. OESTROGEN DOMINANCE
In oestrogen-dominant females (that tend to store the majority of body fat around the upper thighs and bum) coffee can actually hinder fat loss when drunk in excessive amounts.
So if you are drinking 4-6 Nespresso capsules per day, expect fat loss on your bum to be slower than it potentially could be. The flip side of course is bountiful, for example, when released slowly into your system, the caffeine works as an effective fat burner by increasing your metabolism.
So the moral of the story is that moderation and timing are key.
2. STRESS, CORTISOL AND BELLY FAT
Something I hear more often than I’d like some of my female Bootcampers going for a coffee after their training session. Of all the things to consume after workouts, coffee is one of the worst. One of the worst times to drink coffee is after training as it will delay recovery and elevate the stress hormone cortisol, which will only serve to negate the effects of losing fat around your midsection – in case you’re slow on the uptake here; coffee post-workout = belly fat encouragement (or massive blocking of ability to lose it, put it that way).
Increased cortisol results in it being harder and harder to get leaner in the stomach area. Caffeine will slow the metabolism of cortisol just as the body is trying to eliminate it from the system. So alkaline, cortisol-curbing solutions are the best option, for example in the form of a green drink or vegetable juice, with a good dose of vitamin C (when it is absorbed the best) to increase recovery and lower acidity and cortisol levels further.
Cortisol is a good thing during a workout for sure, it just needs to come down quickly afterwards. Coffee therefore is one of the worst things to consume at this stage – did I say this already?
3. ANXIETY AND SLEEP
If you suffer from anxiety or insomnia then obviously coffee should me moderated or avoided altogether. It is best to not drink coffee after around 2pm if sleep can sometimes be a problem. Interestingly, it is noted that coffee before bedtime has been shown to improve sleep in some individuals (a very small percentage of the population). There is very little research on this but it appears that some people, including me actually, are not affected in the usual way by caffeine and the coffee makes them feel restful.
THE COFFEE CONUNDRUM
Coffee is a very complex beverage containing hundreds of different compounds which can by definition lead to a diverse range of health outcomes. Although research is abundant, quality studies are few and far between and interpretations of them are ever wider ranging (needless to say some interpretations are more reliable than others).
There are many top-quality controlled randomised studies showing that coffee improves vascular health, lowers the risk of heart disease and furthermore lowers the risk of certain cancers linked to HDL increases.
There are a few paradoxes naturally, for example, diabetes. Studies have shown a decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes, yet as a result of further studies it is now recommended that diabetics choose decaffeinated coffee to gain the benefits of the coffee but without the caffeine effects.
As with anything, it depends which way you look at it and what you are after.
Everyone is unique and what is good for one, is bad for another.
A further perfect example of this is that fat in cream used for some people’s coffee slows down the release of caffeine into your system making it a more effective fat burner. But too much cream and the effects are reversed due to the excessive calories from saturated fat (if on a regular basis) and the Glycaemic Index of lactose. But, hey, a little cream never hurt anyone. So one would say perhaps a macchiato is almost the perfect coffee (despite containing minimal amounts of sugar in the form of lactose). To be discussed amongst your friends 🙂
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
I would say that for anyone with a condition such as high cholesterol, diabetes or excessive oestrogen (or an oestrogen imbalance), then further personal experimentation, research and analysis should be undertaken to examine the personal effects that coffee may have on you but for average, healthy or fit individuals then coffee has amazing health and workout benefits; particularly when prepared well, taken in moderation and consumed pre-exercise. This is the ‘optimal’ time. Don’t overthink it (heaven forbid should the decision-making stress elevate your natural cortisol levels and lead to belly fat gain… jokes, jeez) and let me put you off having it when you want to have it but know that I’m all about the ‘optimal’ and I’m only trying to inform you the best way I can. Who’s your Paddy?!
Just to reiterate though one last time, we are talking about a cup of freshly brewed coffee, not the latest 800 calorie, mocha-choca-loca-
foca, full fat milk, squirty-cream, chocolate covered Starbucks special! … Sorry to burst your frap-filled bubble but someone had to.
Despite the fact that everyone is a unique and what works for one, possibly wouldn’t work for another; these are the summary points of today’s article:
Drinking coffee post-workout should be restricted (especially in cortisol-dominant men and oestrogen-dominant women)
Pre-workout is the optimal time for coffee consumption but any other time in the first half of the day can work well too (apart from post-workout, obvs)
Coffee is best enjoyed when brewed properly, from real beans (I can just smell it now), to glean the antioxidant/ free-radical benefits to the max
Your blood pressure and vascular health can actually benefit from the C-man (when consumed in moderation)
If you are an anxious person or suffer from sleep issues, you and the C-man should be on nodding terms, but barely
If you love it, have it; as long as it fits your goals and your lifestyle. #YOLO (does anyone still say that these days?)
So wake up, smell the coffee and enjoy it for all its wonderfully wonderful awesomeness (albeit at the right time! Did I say that already?).
p.s. Please go ahead and share the love, by sharing this article using the various buttons below. Or even easier, comment in the section below – I’d love you for it, as I adore feedback. Or just go to my Facebook post on this article and chip in with your good vibes. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks in advance.
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Lopez-Garcia, E. Long-Term Coffee Consumption Associated with Reduced Risk of Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. Evidence-Based Medicine. 2012.
Mostofsky, E., et al. Habitual Coffee Consumption and Risk of Heart Failure: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis. Circulatory Heart Failure. 2012. 5(4), 401-405.
Roach, R., et al. Coffee Consumption is Associated with a Lower Risk of Venous Thrombosis Which is Mediated Through Haemostatic Factor Levels. Journal of Thrombosis Haemostat. 2012.
Spradley, B., Crowly, K., et al. Ingesting a Pre-Workout Containing Caffeine, B-Vitamins, Amino Acids, and Creatine Before Exercise Delays Fatigue While Improving Reaction Time and Muscular Endurance. Nutrition and Metabolism. 2012. 9, 28.
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Schliep, K.C., et al. Serum Caffeine and Paraxanthine Concentrations and Menstrual Cycle Function: Correlations and Menstrual Cycle Function: Correlations with Beverage Intakes and Association with race, Reproductive Hormones, and Anovulation in the BioCycle Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.2016. 104(1). 155-163.