I've been asked more than once if coffee is something that should be avoided. Usually the question centers around dehydration due to the caffeine content, but that's often accompanied by the question of "is it good for me?" as a general statement. Lucky for us, the research shows that coffee does not have negative health impacts and might actually be protective in some cases. Great news for the daily cup of coffee drinkers!
Caffeine Content Matters
The most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans specifically addressed caffeine intake in the form of coffee. Luckily for avid coffee drinkers, three to five, 8 oz cups per day was shown to be safe. However, the three to five cups of coffee must be equivalent to 400mg of caffeine. Some methods for brewing coffee result in a higher caffeine content. If you're curious about your regular cup then check out this chart from the Center of Science in the Public Interest for more. Additionally, the recommendations specifically point to healthy adults, not children, teens, pregnant or lactating women, or those with chronic conditions who may be more sensitive to caffeine. Some research has also shown that moderate intake of coffee may be protective against cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Since coffee is a source of antioxidants, those antioxidants can play a role in the reduction of chronic inflammation which can be protective against certain chronic diseases.
Caffeine and Your Workouts
Caffeine is a hot topic in the sports world because of the research that supports its consumption for improved endurance. Most of this benefit is coming from the effect that caffeine has on the central nervous system. Lots of popular sports supplements emphasize that caffeine can help in burning fat, but the slight increase in metabolism and the effect on fat as fuel is not as substantial as many supplements would have you believe. For those looking to use caffeine as a means for improving endurance, the recommendations vary. Most recommendations are between 3 to 6mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight with the understanding that more is not better and may have negative health impacts. So, a 150lb person (68kg) would aim for approximately 200-400mg of caffeine within the hour before exercise. This can be consumed in the form of a supplement, but is also easily reached with coffee alone. Energy drinks and other supplements containing extreme amounts of caffeine are not recommended.
Does Caffeine Cause Dehydration?
In the dosages listed here, caffeine intake does not result in a negative impact on fluid balance or in an increased sweat rate. Up to 400mg of caffeine or approximately 4 cups of coffee brewed with 100mg caffeine each, will not contribute to dehydration. This can put your mind at ease for reaching for a cup of freshly brewed coffee first thing in the morning instead of a glass of water (although hydrating with water is a must!).
Sugar, Fat, and Everything Else Added to Your Coffee
Ordering coffee in a local coffee shop can sometimes require google to help with deciphering the menu because there are so many choices. The basics are this: choose a beverage that tastes good to you and that you enjoy, but with as little added sugar and saturated fat as possible. Many of the national coffee chains have coffee beverages with extreme amounts of added sugar which puts them well beyond the amount found in a typical soda. For example, one Venti Iced Caramel Frappucino at Starbucks has 84g of sugar, the majority of which are added. If you compare that to the fact that women should be aiming for no more than 24g of added sugar per day and men no more than 36g, that is well over the mark in your morning beverage alone. Beverages with added saturated fat are also to be considered in the total amount of saturated fat to be consumed for the day. That same beverage contains 10g of saturated fat if prepared with whole milk which is about half of the daily recommended intake.
The bottom line: enjoy your coffee, but do so without the additives. Just find a good cup of coffee and I promise you won't need all the sugar and saturated fat!