The Shocking Truth About Coffee (that won’t surprise anyone)

Depending on whom you consider an authority, coffee is either a delicious treat that also has a variety of health and performance enhancing properties, or it’s a dangerous and highly addictive substance that literally shaves years off your life, one sip at a time.

 

Coffee

 

When the GMB team gets together once or twice a year, the amount of time and money we spend in coffee shops borders on the ridiculous.

So… I guess you could say we’re firmly in the pro-coffee camp.

Here’s a brief testament:

 

 

With that said, though, there are certain considerations to keep in mind when it comes to the black stuff.

There’s a time and a place for everything in life, including coffee, and there are even certain times you may want to take a step back and examine how you respond to coffee.

 

Why You Should Drink Coffee

 

There are many reasons to drink coffee. Here are just a few:

 

Cofffffeeeeeee!

Do you really need more reasons?

  • Because you have a crush on your barista
  • Because it stimulates the nervous system
  • For its cognitive-enhancing effects
  • For its fat-burning properties
  • Because of its effect on insulin sensitivity
  • Because it’s freaking delicious

Seriously. If loving coffee is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Coffee is amazing for you, so don’t let the nags shame you into giving up something you love.

 

When You Should Drink Coffee

 

Best Times for a Caffeine Injection

  • Before training - Drinking a cup of coffee about 30 minutes prior to exercise has been shown to increase testosterone level and nitrous oxide production during training (e.g., it’s “anabolic”). It also increases pain tolerance and focuses the mind.
  • After training - Caffeine decreases insulin sensitivity in the short term, allowing you to give your muscles the carbohydrate they need to grow without some of the other nasty effects of eating a ton of sugar.
  • When you get hungry between meals - Recently, coffee has been shown to suppress hunger signals, which can be extremely useful when fasting, or simply trying to make it to your next scheduled meal time (because consistent meal times are hugely important for metabolism and energy levels).

 

Times to Lay Off the Shaky Sauce

  • Within a few hours of when you plan to sleep - This one’s a no-brainer, right? You’ll never get any rest if you’re all hopped up.
  • When you haven’t been sleeping well - Your body needs sleep, and when your sleep cycle is out of whack, it can take some time to restore your natural circadian rhythms. Artificially stimulating your energy systems will only make it harder on your body to adjust.
  • When you’re under stress - Everyone’s under too much stress these days, so don’t exacerbate matters by overstimulating your nervous system when you should really be taking some time out to relax and breathe.
  • When you feel sad or angry - Caffeine can intensity aggressive or negative emotions, so think happy thoughts before you pour.
  • When you feel tired - This one might surprise you. Isn’t that what coffee’s supposed to be great for? Sure, a cup of coffee can boost your lagging energy in the short term, but using it this way is a crutch for lacking nutrition or sleep. Crutches turn into dependencies, so you’d do best to avoid drinking coffee when you’re tired.

 

What About My Morning Cup?

 

If you need this much coffee to start your day, you should probably take a hard look at your lifestyle.

You may notice that drinking a cup of coffee first thing in the morning isn’t listed on either list above.

To many people, myself included, a cup of coffee in the morning is part of a daily ritual. Mine also includes pig’s blood and chanting, but none of that gets underway until I’ve made use of my excellent home espresso machine.

Rituals are great, and I’m a big believer in building healthy habits into your lifestyle.

But some people take things too far. Rituals become obsessions, and habits become addictions. This isn’t what we want for ourselves, but it’s hard to see our own weaknesses sometimes, so here’s some things to watch out for:

  • “Needing” coffee to wake up - This is straightforward enough. You should be able to wake up in the morning and function in the world even if you don’t have any coffee.
  • A cup turns into a pot - For “daily ritual” purposes, a single cup is usually sufficient. Unless it’s the weekend and you just happen to have time for a second cup, it’s best to keep to a limit.
  • You rush trough your coffee while doing a dozen other things - Reading the morning paper while you enjoy your brew is one thing, but gulping back your coffee while running around the house like a crazy person isn’t a great routine.
  • You get headaches if you skip your coffee - A sure sign of either psychological or physiological dependence. Coffee, like most things, should always be an option – one you can do without if need be.

 

Coffee’s Place in a Healthy Lifestyle

 

Health breaks down to three main components overall:

  1. Nutrition – The food you eat and how efficiently your body makes use of it
  2. Work – Your training and other daily activities
  3. Rest – Sleep and active recovery

Coffee affects your body on all three levels, so be aware of how each cup is going to either play for or against your goals.

The same can be said for a lot of other things in our lives too. When it comes down to it, being healthy means making good lifestyle choices on a daily basis. In anything you do, consider the outcome on your health and decide if the thing you’re about to do will move you forward or back.

And it’s OK to take a step back, as long as you know what you’re doing (so stop lying to yourself).

 

The choice to consume or avoid caffeine is just one small part of a larger discussion about the nutritional choices you make a daily basis.

Nutrition is a sensitive topic that people tend to way overcomplicate. We’ve made things as simple as possible in our comprehensive article on nutrition.

 

Image via Linh Nguyen

 

Andy Fossett

GMB Executive Director - Andy enjoys reading books, drinking beer, and practicing martial arts and parkour. He lives in Honolulu, Hawaii and thinks you look lovely today.

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The Shocking Truth About Coffee (that won't surprise anyone) by
  • Torsten Nielsen

    I’m a coffee lover and addict. I was told, that drinking coffee could slow down gains in flexibility, partly because of its diuretic properties. I have tried to stay of the black stuff for a while, but apart from a slight headache the first couple of days, I didn’t really see any changes. Sadly no real progress with flexibility either. Drinking lots of coffee does make me feel bad though. Since the experts can’t agree, maybe we should just go by our own feelings.

    • Andy

      I’ve heard too that dehydration can have a negative effect on “tissue quality,” but I think it’s a poor assumption that drinking coffee means you will be chronically dehydrated.

      I’m sure you get plenty of hydration throughout the day, so it shouldn’t make a big difference for you.

      Headaches are common withdrawal symptoms because caffeine dilates the blood vessels in the brain. I also can’t drink too much though – the acid makes me feel pretty crappy.

  • Nicola

    I’m a researcher and I’m Italian, and therefore a HUGE coffee consumer. I had never thought coffee could be (too) bad for my health in general, let alone for my training. So you raised the question in the first place, and then answered in the most convenient way. Good job (as always)! (I think I’ll go for a cup, now…)

    • Andy

      Thanks, Nicola!

      Coffee is a great complement to research because it increases focus and raises mental activity to match your attention.

  • Guido

    Thanks Andy! I have to admit that this article to me reflects the obvious, common sense, and it does so very precisely and well-spoken. Call it coffee rebel style or whatever, I only hope that we do not get into a “permission given” attitude for everything that we do. In my perception, “permission given” to be great etc. is getting too much, so now we also “got permission” to drink coffee :-). Alright, I admit, this may be a little off topic, but it was the first thought that came to my mind. Personally, from time to time, I have a cup of coffee just for the taste and enjoyment of it. Usually I have tea.

    • Andy

      –I only hope that we do not get into a “permission given” attitude for everything that we do.–

      Great point, and I definitely wouldn’t expect anyone to seek my permission to make a choice about how they want to do things.

      I absolutely agree that we should be sovereign over our own experience and take responsibility for learning and making choices in live.

      Maybe off-topic a bit, but it’s still an important idea. Thanks!

    • http://www.netismyteacher.com Deon

      What a fantastic comment. You put into words what I was thinking. Just because I read an article on the internet (albeit by someone who I respect very highly) does not mean “permission given” to take action without thinking about my particular circumstances.

      I’m a tea drinker for all the benefits that Ryan has given for coffee. My body just can’t handle that much caffeine. One half cup of coffee and I will be able to sleep that night.

      However I found macha tea (not green tea) can give me all the benefits of alertness and I can still sleep at night.

  • Luminus

    Fantastic stuff. I love coffee, and Brad Pilon advocates using it to help get through your fast even though I don’t need anything other than water to make it through my fast these days.

    I think it’s time to break out that coffee maker.

    • Andy

      Ha ha, yeah, fasting gets a LOT easier with experience. Learning to recognize true hunger and appreciate the feeling of not being full all the time takes some time.

      But a cup of coffee can make things more comfortable.

      • Luminus

        You can say that again. When I started fasting, the first 3 days, all I could think about was FOOD. Now I don’t even start to get hungry until about 1pm.

        I always liked coffee but my wife made me LOVE it. She got me off that instant crap and turned me on to Arabian beans. Lovely stuff.

        We try to limit it to 3 cups a day.

  • Bennett

    Wait, I can’t drink coffee when I’m sad, tired, and/or angry? But… that’s how I am every morning when I get up for work.

    Seriously, though, that’s actually pretty good, balanced report you guys give. Even though you’re obviously biased, writing from Seattle ;)

    I was aware of the positive effects with regards to fat loss and insulin, but I didn’t realize that it was pro-anabolic if you took it in that window. So that’s a good tidbit.

    Alas, my metabolism is so high that when I take in caffeine before a workout, it tends to jack up my system so high that I feel ill. Good thing I never tried those ephedra stackers, or I’d be doing my clean and presses with St. Paul these days (bodily exercise profiteth little indeed!) But that’s usually only when I’ve done coffee to get a boost for a high-intensity workout, I haven’t done much with it in regards to moderate-level weightlifting. Something to experiment with, when I do some lifting after F1.

    Oh and don’t forget about the antioxidants, too. That’s the magic word these days, right?

    • Andy

      Good point. Those of us with naturally high metabolism should probably avoid too much caffeine before high-intensity training.

      Also, Jarlo’s in Seattle. I’m in Honolulu, so I drink the local coffee whenever possible.

      • Bennett

        Ohhh, man, that Hawaiian stuff… Anything from volcanic regions is just phenomenal. Good for you, man!

  • http://illuminatedmind.net Jonathan Mead

    I was going to just have a cup today, but I think it’s time to make another now…

    • Andy

      Just to spite me…

  • Martin

    Coffee and chocolate are one of the food groups for me. I’m not an addict, only two cups a day of coffee. Chocolate is unlimited throughout the day. :)

    • Andy

      Ha ha ha. Chocolate is a beautiful thing as well, though I don’t have very much at all in the past few years.

      I think it’s best to limit oneself to pursuing no more than two vices for any duration. For you, those may be coffee and chocolate. For me, they’re coffee and beer.

  • Joseph Schwartz

    geez, i did the type 1 immuno bloodprint food sensitivity test and coffee was a reactor :-(

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.fossett Andy Fossett

    There are certainly people that don’t do well with it. Like anything really. Bummer for you though.

  • Shayna

    I never liked coffee in the U.S. – and then I moved to Brazil and fell in LOVE with the cafezinho! Tiny, sweet, strong, and obligatory after meals. You can also find complimentary cafezinhos in offices, beauty salons, schools, etc. To this day coffee in the States just tastes watered down to me.

    One cultural difference is that parents give kids as young as 5 coffee to drink (though mixed with lots of milk). Maybe being raised on coffee is what gives my Brazilian husband the ability to drink it at 11 pm and sleep like a baby!

    • Andy

      Sounds like good stuff. I tend to like my coffee on the intense side.

      I must have gotten a late start because I didn’t drink coffee regularly until I was about 14 or so.

  • http://marjorymejia.com Marjory

    I love the ritual part. Drinking coffee for the pleasure of it. An art form. No Starbucks, give me fair trade organic artesanal delicousness. Time for a cup. Thanks for a good article. My grandfather lived until 86 very healthy, drinking many cups a day!

    • Andy

      I don’t always drink the best, but at least once a week, I go downtown to have a good cup at Beach Bum Cafe. They serve the best coffee in Honolulu – all grown and roasted in the islands. Definitely a pleasure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bennett.marshall Bennett Marshall

    It is by java alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of Arabica that thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning.

  • Ben

    I love coffee, and I love making my own espresso using my own espresso machine. However, I always make sure that I am NOT addicted to coffee.

    Here is what I do: I set up a simple routine – EVERY Saturday I FAST coffee. This reminds me that I don’t depend on coffee to survive, wake up, or work. I can live without it, Moreover, once in a while I would fast coffee for a week. Interestingly, I never find this fasting to be so difficult.

    So here is my addiction prevention routine. Perhaps other readers may want to try as well?

    • Andy

      Good idea, Ben.

      I don’t have a specific day, but I generally take a day or two off every week. And from time to time, I’ll also do a week or a month without it too.

      And like you, I’ve noticed that I suffer no ill effects when I do. It’s probably that the body can learn to handle withdrawal gracefully with practice.

      Thanks for the comment.

  • Cristian

    Man, what a bunch of coffee lovers. Well, I thought this post missed a comment from a coffee hater. :-)

    With all the benefits that Andy posted, I don’t like it. Not because of health reasons or because it would be an addiction. I just don’t like it. Not the taste. Not the smell. And that’s why I get a good laugh when I see those coffee commercials where Santa comes attracted by the smell. Ha.

    But as most of you like it, enjoy it. ;-)

    • http://www.netismyteacher.com Deon

      Plus one for the coffee haters crew. Macha tea is my poison.

      • Andy

        Man, you guys suck ;)

        Of course, we all have different tastes. Ryan and my wife think natto is delicious. I think they’re crazy.

        In the end, that’s just more coffee for me.

  • PriM

    Not to take things too seriously and to each their own but please read the book Caffeine Blues (link below) and find out the real facts. It was written by a doctor and scientist who did thorough research. Hey, anyone can quote research to support the position they want but this man is the real deal. I enjoy coffee and wish I could drink it. I also enjoyed some of it’s helpful effects but the less desirable effects were not worth it.
    Coffee is hormonally nasty among other bad things; the only difference between individuals is how well your body tolerates it and processes it. Unfortunately, over time, it will reveal it’s negative effects to everyone whose addiction doesn’t cloud their objectivity. Sorry guys – it’s like anything: we all (including myself) make our choices with food, etc and live with them. In this aspect, I do not feel anyone or anything is right/wrong good/bad but making informed choices is our freedom.

    http://www.amazon.com/Caffeine-Blues-Hidden-Dangers-Americas/dp/0446673919

    • Bennett

      “over time, it will reveal it’s (sic) negative effects to everyone whose addiction doesn’t cloud their objectivity.”

      I think the whole point of the post is that there’s upsides and downsides, but that book makes it sound like coffee is worse than a beer and cigarette breakfast, with a heroin chaser–which doesn’t gel with the prima facie evidence all around us.

      Not to mention your comment makes it sound as if we’re all just so jacked up on the bean-sauce that we can’t think straight about it. I’m not sure whether you’re implying faulty brain chemistry, confirmation bias, or both, but it is a fairly audacious claim. D’you really think the only reason anyone disagrees with you is because they’re a stimulant junkie who can’t reason clearly?

    • Andy

      Thanks for sharing what you feel is important information. I can tell that this is in earnest, and helpful comments are always welcome.

      I’ve read a lot of research both for and against caffeine consumption. And also for and against protein, multivitamins, drinking certain amounts of water each day, and lots of other stuff.

      And you’re right: everything has a trade-off.

      But I disagree that coffee is especially dangerous and maintain that the benefits outweigh the problems in otherwise healthy people.

      There’s a lot more to hormonal balance than cutting out caffeine. If you keep your intake within the guidelines I posted above, you shouldn’t notice any disruption of your sleep cycles or other circadian rhythm. You’re not going to suffer chronic adrenal fatigue if you’re getting quality sleep and eating well.

      Making an informed choice is difficult to do, especially when there is so much conflicting information going around.

      Thanks for sharing this additional source.