Americans love their coffee, guzzling down about 400 million cups every day. In fact, coffee earned the nickname “Joe” during WWII because Joe was such a common name among the American solders, who drank it heavily. But there are a number of conflicting opinions regarding the physiological effects of coffee and whether or not it’s even safe to drink. The theories multiply in the athletic context, with some people arguing that athletes shouldn’t even touch the stuff. But what does the research reveal? Is coffee healthy for the average person? How much is considered a safe amount? What effects can it have on athletes and exercisers?
What’s in Your Morning Cup
The star player in any discussion on coffee is, of course, caffeine. Famously, caffeine is a stimulant which means that it increases heart rate and blood flow, widening the blood vessels and giving you that extra boost.
But this process can backfire, leading to the dreaded crash. Once the effects of caffeine wear off, the body is shocked back to reality. Not only do the blood vessels contract, which can leave you exhausted and result in a headache, but the sudden absence of caffeine could lead to other deficiencies. Since coffee has little-to-no nutritional value, once the jolt of caffeine is gone, there’s very little fuel to keep you moving unless you’ve had a decent meal. But caffeine is also an appetite suppressant, so you may be subconsciously keep your portions smaller. In fairness, though, this type of painful crash is unlikely to happen if you’ve only had a small amount of coffee or if you’re to it.
Similar symptoms can also accompany caffeine withdrawal, if you go cold turkey.
But there’s a lot more going on in your mug than that. Coffee contains hundreds of active compounds, many of them are not fully understood, which effect several biological systems. For example a study conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health found that coffee may be beneficial for the prevention of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, liver cancer, cirrhosis and heart disease.
For The Athlete
Regardless of your sport, most athletes are looking for some kind of competitive edge. Since caffeine is a familiar and reliable stimulant, many supplements contain it. Instead of investing in these products, though, most athletes just turn to coffee. Especially for runners who like to head out first thing in the morning, that cup of coffee might be an essential part of your routine.
The research supports the use of coffee as a performance enhancer, particularly for endurance activities lasting longer than 20 minutes. Over the course of about 74 quality studies, an average improvement of around 12 percent was experienced from coffee consumption.
It was once thought that coffee, since it’s a diuretic, didn’t count toward fluid consumption and could cause dehydration. This is no longer considered true, however. Coffee, and many other caffeinated drinks, do count towards your fluid intake.
How Much Is Too Much
As noted above, too much caffeine can have painful side effects. But what’s the limit? It’s difficult to pin down a number that fits everybody, since the caffeine works differently on different individuals. Your age, health conditions, medication and the amount of coffee you normally drink will all effect your tolerance levels.
It may take some trial-and-error to find how much coffee works for you. Start with just a small cup and see how you feel. You might even try going for a run after waiting about 30 minutes. This will allow you to test the way that coffee interacts with your workout, for the good or the bad.