If there were a list of highly controversial substances, coffee
would probably take first place. Come to think about it, there are dozens of such lists. Yes, the fact is, coffee has… mixed reputation (and this is putting it mildly).
Everywhere you look, there seem to be so many conflicting opinions and ‘scientific findings’ regarding coffee (and caffeine). On the one hand, you’ve got the coffee lovers who swear by it and praise it for its many health benefits. On the other side, however, some folks stand firmly against is, deeming it unhealthy, ineffective, and addictive.
So, naturally, one gets to wonder, “Who is right and who is wrong here? Am I a bad person for enjoying my morning cup of coffee? More importantly, what health consequences might I suffer because of that?”
The Benefits of Coffee
Here are some of coffee’s most important health
and performance-enhancing benefits
Coffee Is Good For Cardiovascular Health
In some long-term observational studies (the findings of which should be taken with a grain of salt), regular coffee drinkers appear to have lower risks of heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. It seems that, on average, each cup of coffee reduces the risk for all of these by 5 percent, and up to six cups per day seem to deliver increasingly greater protection.
Now, this sounds all well and good, and there could be a lot of truth to it, but six cups of coffee might be too much for most folks (even though that seems to be the most beneficial amount). After all, we can’t forget that caffeine is a stimulant, and can raise blood pressure and lead to sleeplessness if you take too much. So, a healthy medium of one to four cups might be best for most folks.
Coffee Seems to Increase Life Span
A similar long-term observational study that looked at over 400 000 individuals showed a strong correlation between coffee consumption and a much lower risk of death. In twelve years, researchers noted that men who drank coffee regularly had a 12 percent reduced chance of mortality. For women, the risk of death was reduced by about 16 percent.
One possible explanation here is that coffee improves cardiovascular health. Other theories float around the idea that coffee helps ward off depression and may prevent suicide in some folks.
Coffee Enhances Memory and Cognition
Caffeine is most commonly used as a psychoactive substance, and beverages like coffee, tea, and soft drinks are among the most common types. Of course, coffee is the richest source of caffeine, and many folks consume it for its benefits on cognition. Research has shown that coffee stimulates brain activity by blocking one neuromodulator called adenosine (which is thought to suppress arousal and aid us with sleep).
In addition to that, caffeine also leads to increases in catecholamines, including dopamine, noradrenaline, and epinephrine (adrenaline), which brings about a better mood, improved alertness, and increased overall energy. These underlying mechanisms are also backed by studies where caffeine has been shown to boost thinking skills, memory, mood, and reflexes in the short-term.
Coffee Improves Athletic Performance
Coffee is among the most widely-used pre-workout aids out there, and caffeine can be found in almost all performance-enhancing supplements on the market. If you’re looking to acutely improve measures of strength, explosiveness, endurance, and speed, look no further than your kitchen or local coffee shop. Numerous studies have shown that doses of up to 400-600 mg of caffeine taken shortly before exercise reliably increase physical performance, and allow athletes to do more work before feeling exhausted.
A Double Weight Loss Combo: Coffee Raises Your Metabolic Rate and Blunts Hunger
For a large percentage of people, coffee suppresses appetite. This is because coffee contains certain compounds known as chlorogenic acids, which can impact gut flora and bring about satiety. This benefit is nicely accompanied by another - the small boost in metabolic rate thanks to caffeine. According to studies, caffeine can boost our metabolism by up to 11 percent, which can make quite the difference.
If you usually burn 2500 calories per day, an 11 percent increase would help you burn an extra 275 calories without you having to do much else. Over a week, that’s an extra 1925 calories or over half a pound of pure fat loss. To burn the same amount of calories with cardio, you would have to do upward of six hours throughout the week.
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The Drawbacks of Coffee
As with most things, however, coffee also has its drawbacks.
As a Stimulant, Coffee Can Disrupt Your Sleep
Caffeine has a half-life of between five and six hours. Meaning, if you ingest 400 mg of caffeine at 2 pm, you would still have 200 mg circulating in your system by 6 or 7 pm. This is something you should keep in mind because drinking coffee in the second half of the day may disrupt your sleep, particularly if you go to bed around 10 or 11 pm. No cognitive or physical benefits are worth it if you have to sacrifice your sleep to gain them.
Coffee May Cause Some Mild Anxiety
Drinking too much coffee can cause side effects like jitteriness, anxiety, and heart palpitations. So, if you’re particularly sensitive to caffeine or you haven’t consumed it before, it’s better to start with a mild dose and see how it affects you. Maybe one cup in the morning and one around noon.
And if you’re too sensitive and find that caffeine does more harm than good, it may just not be for you.
Your Body Builds a Tolerance, and All Of The Effects Becomes Less Pronounced
You need to remember that coffee is a stimulant. And, as such, your body naturally builds up a tolerance to its effects over time. This applies to all of the potential benefits, including athletic performance and cognitive improvement.
So, you would have to take increasingly larger doses to keep feeling the effects of caffeine. For most folks, it goes from a substance they can strategically use to improve their performance and mood to something they need to take to function and ward off headaches.
And speaking of that:
Caffeine Withdrawals Are Unpleasant
Coffee can be addictive. And, as such, missing your daily dose can lead to withdrawals which are quite unpleasant. The most common ones include headaches and tiredness. In some cases, folks also feel brain fog and irritability. All of these symptoms can last for up to several days of coffee abstinence.
So, is Coffee Good or Bad for You?
If you’re feeling more confused now than before you began this article, don’t worry. Let’s break it down.
For the most part, coffee (and caffeine) is good for you. It delivers numerous health benefits, it’s associated with longevity and decreased risk of cardiovascular issues, and strategic use can improve your cognitive and athletic performance. Of course, it’s worth noting that some folks don’t tolerate caffeine well even with smaller doses, but that’s something you should try for yourself on an individual level.
Pregnant women and people with anxiety or high blood pressure might also want to avoid or limit coffee intake. With that said, there are a couple of things you should do to maximize the benefits of coffee while keeping the drawbacks at bay.
First off, if your primary goal is to use coffee for its performance-enhancing benefits (be it cognitive or physical), you should drink it only before such tasks (say, before working out or sitting down to study). That way, you’ll build less tolerance and will be able to reap its benefits for longer.
Second, seeing as coffee is a stimulant and has a long half-life, you should avoid consuming it within seven to nine hours of going to bed as it can make it difficult to fall (and stay) asleep.
Third, it’s a good idea to cycle coffee, so you avoid tolerance. For example, drinking coffee for three weeks and then taking a full week off from it.
And finally, beware of the many hidden calories that might come with coffee. Mostly try to avoid adding anything to coffee, maybe just a bit of sugar or a natural sweetener like Stevia, because you could otherwise add hundreds of calories to your daily intake without even realizing it.
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