Coffee: Filtering the Facts
By Nancy Clark, MS, RD
"I have 2 cups of coffee in the morning. How bad is that...???
"Should I drink coffee before I exercise?"
"Does coffee count towards my daily water requirement?"
Coffee is a universally loved beverage. Every culture the world around enjoys some type of caffeinated beverage, be it tea in England and Japan, espresso in Italy, or a "coffee regular" in America.
Questions abound about the role of coffee in a sports diet: Is coffee good, bad or irrelevant?
Let’s answer some of the questions athletes commonly ask about coffee as it relates to their daily diet as well as to their exercise program.
Is coffee bad for me? That is, will it hurt my health?
To date, there is no obvious connection between caffeine and heart disease, cancer or blood pressure.
The general answer, according to leading medical and scientific experts, is normal coffee consumption produces no adverse health effects.
(The average American consumes 200 milligram caffeine per day; the equivalent of about 8 to 10 ounces--an average mug--of coffee.)
For the 10% of Americans who ingest more than 1,000 milligrams caffeine per day and sustain themselves on the cream and sugar in coffee plus a few cigarettes alongside, heart disease is indeed more common--and linked to the poor diet and unhealthful lifestyle.
What does coffee do to my body?
The caffeine in coffee is a mild stimulant that increases the activity of the central nervous system.
Caffeine helps you stay alert and enhances mental focus. Caffeine's stimulant effect peaks in about one hour and then declines as the liver breaks down the caffeine.
If you are an occasional coffee drinker, you'll tend to be more sensitive to caffeine's stimulant effects as compared to the daily coffee consumer who has developed a tolerance to caffeine.
What about coffee and women?
Pregnant women should limit caffeine to less than 300 mg. per day (<12 ounces of coffee).
Women who are trying to get pregnant might want to reduce caffeine intake even more, but more research is needed to clarify the controversy over the effects of caffeine on fertility.
Women who are worried about getting osteoporosis may have heard that caffeine is linked to low bone density. The solution is to consume at least 8 ounces of milk per day. How about putting more milk in your coffee or enjoying some lattes?
Do people get addicted to coffee?
Although coffee has been a popular bevera for centuries, its sustained popularity fails to classify it as "addictive."
Coffee is not associated with the behaviors found with hard drugs (such as a need for more and more coffee, anti-social behavior, severe difficulty stopping consumption).
If you are a regular coffee drinker who decides to cut coffee out of your diet, you may develop headaches, fatigue or drowsiness.
The solution: gradually decrease your caffeine intake rather than eliminate coffee cold turkey. And be aware, if you should get a headache due to caffeine withdrawal, caffeine-containing medicines such as Anacin or Excedrin will foil your efforts to reduce your caffeine intake!
How much caffeine is in espresso?
Ounce for ounce, espresso is about twice as strong as coffee (35 vs 18 milligrams caffeine per ounce of Starbuck's).
BUT.. because the espresso serving is so small, you end up with less caffeine: 35 mg from one shot (one ounce) of espresso vs 140 mg from an 8-ounce Starbuck's coffee.
How much caffeine does cola have compared to coffee?
The typical 9-ounce mug of coffee averages 200 milligrams of caffeine. This is about 5 times more than the 35 to 50 milligrams in a can of cola.
The real kick from soft drinks comes from sugar, not caffeine.
If I drink too much beer, will coffee help me sober up?
No. Coffee will just make you a wide-awake drunk.
Coffee does not speed the time needed for the liver to detoxify alcohol. Coffee does get water into your body, and that can have a positive effect.
Does coffee count towards my daily fluid needs?
Yes. All fluids count--plain water, juice, soup, watermelon--and even coffee. The rumor that coffee dehydrates people lacks scientific support.
Coffee can make you urinate more in two hours--but not in 24 hours. Even during exercise in the heat, athletes can consume coffee and not be concerned about dehydration.
What about pre-exercise coffee: Will it help me perform better?
Maybe. Studies suggest caffeine taken an hour pre-exercise can enhance performance and make the effort seem easier.
Caffeine also mobilizes fat so more gets burned for fuel. Some researchers believe this helps athletes burn less glycogen and enhances endurance.
The recommended "dose" is about 1.5 to 3 milligrams caffeine per pound body weight (225 to 450 mg caffeine for a 150 lb person; the equivalent of 10 to 20 ounces of coffee).
Caffeine's response varies from person to person. Hence, trial and error will teach you the best practices regarding caffeine intake for your body.
If you are unaccustomed to drinking coffee, take heed: Consuming a mug of coffee on an empty stomach an hour before a running event or a rugby game, can leave you feeling unduly jittery, nervous and suffering from "coffee stomach."
If you always drink coffee before you exercise, you'll likely want to maintain that practice before a competition--if for no other reason than it can promote regular bowel movements and keep you out of the portatoilets mid event.
Isn't caffeine considered an illegal drug by the Olympic Committee?
Yes, caffeine in very high doses is considered illegal by the IOC. However the amount most athletes generally consume is far below the legal limit.
You'd have to drink 3 to 4 mugs within the hour pre-exercise to reach the limit. That much would likely hurt performance.
Copyright: Nancy Clark, MS, RD January 2002
Nancy Clark, MS, RD is a nutrition counselor at Boston-area's SportsMedicine Brookline. She is author of the best selling Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Second Edition, available by sending $20 to Sports Nutrition Services, 830 Boylston St., BrooklineMA02467or via www.nancyclarkrd.com
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