In a state of shock you launch across the darkness, fumbling for the source of that incessant noise. You find it and kill it, then take a moment to scroll through social media with your one functioning eye while your brain recovers from the ordeal. Gaining composure you make a beeline for the kitchen and begin the ritual, straining hot water through ground beans like an amazonian witch doctor cooking up some medicine. Sipping the concoction your brain recognises the taste immediately and starts to relax, it knows what’s coming. Over the next half hour your brain goes from zero to hero and once again you’ve become a productive member of society, ready to take on whatever challenges are thrown at you, at least until about 10am. Sound familiar?
Of course it does, we’re all familiar with the benefits of coffee. It goes without saying that our world wouldn’t run as smoothly without coffee, giving millions of people better concentration and more focus every day. But what else is coffee good for, can it help our activities as well as our work? Research appears to say so.
We could all do with a performance boost when doing extreme activities and caffeine can help us. The British journal of sports science published an article that showed an experiment on middle distance runners on a treadmill. They would run 1500 metres, one group having ingested coffee one hour before and one group having ingested a placebo of decaffeinated coffee ingested one hour before. They found that on average the caffeinated runners completed the distance 4.2 seconds faster than the decaffeinated group, concluding that caffeinated coffee could enhance the performance of sustained high intensity exercise.
So not only can coffee increase our focus, an essential part of any extreme activity, it can also increase our power output and help us train for longer. But the fun doesn’t stop there, coffee can also help us get leaner. It does this in a number of ways, firstly by causing fat to be used for energy instead of glycogen, our bodies main energy reserve in the form of broken down carbs. It also increases the bodies metabolism meaning that more calories are burned, especially after a workout if only coffee is consumed, this will simulate extended exercise for hours after you’ve finished until your next meal.
If you’re looking for muscular gains however it’s probably best to skip the post workout coffee, caffeine inhibits the bodies mechanism that increases protein synthesis, mTOR if you’re interested. So if you want to gain muscle a post workout meal is what you need, not more coffee. Don’t let that put you off nailing one before your workout though, caffeine appears to be a great pain suppressor. Research from the university of illinois found that a caffeine dose equal to 2 or 3 cups of coffee an hour before a workout reduced the level of pain perceived by the participants significantly. Also research from the university of georgia, march 2007 – the journal of pain, found that consuming the equivalent of 2 cups of coffee before training reduced muscle soreness post training by up to 48%.
Clearly we’re not scared of a little bit of pain but the implications are good, if you’ll hear me out. Less pain means more reps at higher weight, meaning that you are artificially training harder than you could do without caffeine. Harder training means better results as long as your diet can support the muscle growth. On top of that, reduced DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) means that you can train more often leading to faster progress. The university of Coventry also conducted some research in to age related muscle loss of strength and basically found that caffeine reduced it. This suggests that caffeine could help preserve your muscles as you age meaning you would stay stronger for longer and even reduce the chances of injury because of this.
Don’t start brewing up just yet though, it’s not just any old coffee that works in this way. You can’t just swan up to your local coffee dispensary, ask for a vanilla latte and expect to be feeling lean by 5pm. It has to be freshly ground, black coffee without sugar or sweeteners. As soon as you’ve added something to the seemingly delicate mix of antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, vitamins and minerals it eliminates the health benefits. Essentially meaning that what you’ve just thrown in is almost definitely going to be worse than the good stuff that you would have got out of the coffee on its own.
Freshly ground coffee beans are legitimately considered a nutritionally valuable whole food, so it’s best to buy coffee beans whole and grind them yourself immediately before brewing if possible. If you grind too much to consume in one sitting, placing them in a vacuum sealed pot for a day or so will keep them fresh for a day or so, as soon as the beans become stale though they are essentially nutritionally useless.
So how much is too much? It’s generally considered that you should limit yourself to two cups of coffee per day but that’s not very helpful considering all coffees are different. To put that in better terms, two cups at around 8oz each of brewed coffee will put you somewhere in the ballpark of between 300-400mg of caffeine. A grande 16oz starbucks will give you 330mg. Consume much more than this regularly and your adrenal gland can suffer and no one wants that. It’s also important to remember that caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that you need to concentrate a lot more on your hydration level when working at the top end of advised consumption. Dehydration will also negate any benefits you expect to gain from coffee so a good balance is essential.
So there we have it, the basics of why coffee is a good idea and how it can help you achieve what you want. It may be time to put the pre-workout down and try a brew instead.