Coffee Caffeine Health and Performance - Enliven Nutrition
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Coffee Caffeine Health and Performance

Coffee, caffeine, health and performance.

Who here loves a good coffee? I know I sure do, and for all those out there who share my passion for the special brew whether it be espresso, pour over, cold brew or any other variety wouldn’t it be good to know that our passion is actually benefiting our health or performance?

Coffee and Your Health

Some of you may recall some press recently from Harvard University with the results summarised here which very much supported a range of health benefits for your “cup of joe” such as decreased blood pressure, risk of cardiovascular disease development, protective effects against some cancers and so on, however the true mechanisms behind these effects still remain unclear given the wide array of bioactive compounds in coffee itself.

Looking closer at the literature, we see a systematic review and meta-analysis (considered high quality studies) finding that coffee consumption can increase insulin sensitivity, decrease risk of type 2 diabetes development and also decrease the concentrations of well-known inflammatory markers within the blood such as C-Reactive Protein (CRP). Although there have been some poorly designed studies that have attempted to look at the health effects of coffee consumption, this study is far better.

Published in the 2017 Circulation Journal details a moderate consumption of coffee (between 3-5 cups per day) does indeed correlate with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. How about those heavy coffee drinkers (> 6 cups of coffee per day)? If you really hit coffee this hard, according to these recent findings there is no increased risk of cardiovascular disease, however any protective effects were not seen for heavier levels of consumption.

Now aside from the well-known effects of consuming excessive amounts of caffeine (the compound that gives you the kick in your coffee) such as nausea, irritability, insomnia, headaches, fatigue and potential bone demineralisation (calcium leached from bone mass when heavy amounts of caffeine are ingested) it really does seem that if you are mindful of your own tolerances you can enjoy multiple cups of coffee and enjoy some fantastic health benefits!

Coffee and Human Performance

There is quite a significant body of evidence that supports coffee’s use to enhance human performance. We all know the cognitive effects of coffee (caffeinated) whereby the caffeine content essentially blocks sleep receptors within the brain to boost alertness and power you through that long day at work or late night assignment you wish you had not left to the last minute! However let us look at your athletic performance and what recent findings indicate for caffeine.

Maximal Strength

A 2016 meta-analysis and systematic review found here found that caffeine intake did not significantly increase maximal strength levels. This I found very interesting given that I deal with a great number of athletes as a sports dietitian and strength and conditioning coach. Although personal experience cannot be compared to well-designed research studies I can state that over a period of 15 years I have seen many PR’s hit under the influence of a good dose (around 200mg) of caffeine.

Strength Endurance

The same study found significant effects for caffeine’s use on strength endurance (think of this as the ability to exert maximal force over a longer duration of time). The key finding to note here was the timing of caffeine dosage. This correlates to what we know about the absorption profile of caffeine, as it takes around 60 minutes to reach peak concentrations within the bloodstream which ironically correlated with the caffeine timing used in this study that elicited a positive result!

Intense Endurance Exercise

Another good quality study highlights the benefits of caffeine for intense endurance exercise. Dosages of >2mg/kilogram bodyweight caffeine produced these beneficial effects (for example a 80kg individual this would be 160mg caffeine found in most double shot coffees). Similar timings of caffeine dosages were seen, so yet another reason to grab that double shot coffee before your intense sessions!

Specific Activity & Sports Performance

A further good quality research article  has detailed the effects of caffeine within specific sports and activities such as running. Whereby the usual dosages of caffeine utilised in research studies have ranged between 5-6mg/kilogram bodyweight (which for an 80kg individual would equate to 3-4 cups of coffee or 3-4 shots of espresso) there were significant benefits at 200mg of caffeine (2-3mg/kilogram bodyweight) Furthermore, the potential for negative side effects from excessive caffeine ingestion were very much mitigated by use of a lower dose, and as found with many studies, coffee was the caffeine source of choice.

From these studies we can really take away the following messages:

  • Moderate coffee consumption of between 3-5 cups per day is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease development.
  • Heavy coffee consumption (>6 cups per day) did not trigger any benefit or detriment to cardiovascular disease development, however it is a good idea to be mindful of other potential negative effects from high intakes of coffee (and its bioactive compound caffeine).
  • Caffeine which can be derived from coffee, has been shown to enhance high intensity activity performance barring maximal strength gains, however more research into this area would be advantageous to gain a better indication of caffeine’s role in maximal strength performance (given years of experience within the strength and conditioning field).
  • Caffeine ingestion 60 minutes prior to activity yields the best performance effects.
  • Doses as low as 200mg caffeine (most double shot espresso coffees) has been shown to provide a significant boost to high intensity performance whilst minimising the risk of any adverse side effects.

So take the time to enjoy your coffee, however you choose to prepare it. And be sure to visit our partners at Crema Coffee Garage who deliver coffee as it should be!

Combining the correct caffeine dosage, nutrition and strength and conditioning plans will certainly assist you to become better than yesterday. Our team here at Enliven Nutrition are ready and waiting to assist you to unlock your best health and performance potential.