On Coffee and Health - Caffeine for Fitness!

Hey! I'm Danica! And if you're anything like me, you love coffee... which means you've probably heard that they're serving up cancer warnings with your latte in California, thanks to Proposition 65. The Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) sued a bunch of coffee sellers and roasters for violating a California law requiring companies to warn their consumers of chemicals that could cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive issues.

How so?

Through the consumption of acrylamide, a possible cancer-causing by product of the roasting process. What's acrylamide? Here, we're talking naturally occurring acrylamide: it's formed when sugars and amino acids in starchy foods are cooked at higher temperatures (fried, baked or roasted). At excessively high levels, acrylamide can cause cancer and nerve damage, along with some other nefarious effects. 

So pair that tidbit of knowledge with your friend that keeps telling you how bad coffee is for you, and you might just be wondering: is drinking coffee bad for me?

Like with most things in life, there's good... and not so good. For now, we're going to focus on the positives of our beloved brew, so that I and fellow coffee lovers can drink on with peace of mind!


Some quick coffee science: 

Coffee beans contain a bunch of different compounds when you break them down. Most notably, you'll find naturally occurring caffeine, as well as antioxidants and diterpenes in your coffee. Don't worry, I'll cover those a little bit later - it's a lot of science. For now, with the knowledge of just what composes your coffee, enjoy this easy-reading list of some immediate fitness benefits that coffee drinking gym goers may feel!

Improved energy levels and brain power!

I don't think I need to tell you that caffeine is a stimulant. More precisely, it's a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that affects the nervous system (obviously) and the brain, as well as the heart. After your cup of coffee, you'll most likely feel less tired: that's because the caffeine gets absorbed into your bloodstream and travels to your brain, where it then blocks adenosine, an inhibitory neurotransmitter.


Adenosine can act as a CNS depressant. In normal conditions, this promotes sleep: the longer you're awake, the more adenosine gradually builds up in your body, which makes you feel sleepy by the end of the day.

With that blocked, we can feel the increased effects of other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine (which affects the way the brain pays attention and responds to events) and dopamine (that 'feel-good' neurotransmitter that affects mood, motor control and motivation). 

So basically: studies have shown that coffee consumption improves a bunch of aspects of our brain's function: better memory, mood, energy, reaction and general all-around function!

Peak physical performance!

So we know that caffeine is a CNS stimulant. Well, that stimulation helps signal fat cells in the body to break down body fat! (I'll touch on that fat burning next.)

Part of this is thanks to increased epinephrine (or adrenaline) levels: this fight-or-flight hormone preps your body for serious physical exertion. On top of that, the caffeine in your system is breaking down body fat, making fatty acids available to your body to burn as fuel. This combo has proven that some coffee before your workout noticeably improves your performance at the gym!

You'll feel the (fat) burn!

I mentioned burning fat earlier. Why do most 'fat-burning' supplements contain caffeine? Because studies not only show that caffeine consumption increases your metabolic rate, but that it also triggers and increases the fat burning process!

Less pain, more gain!

You're probably familiar with at least a little bit of pain either during or post-workout. Our dear friend caffeine - in reasonable doses, of course: think up to a pretty safe 190 mg - has been found to both reduce our perception of pain and soreness during exercise AND delay onset muscle soreness thereafter!

So on top of feeling less soreness during their sets, on days 2 and 3 post-workout, people that have ingested caffeine pre-workout show significantly lower levels of soreness.

(Fun fact to add: during the same experiment that brought these findings, those that were 'caffeinated' were able to pump out more reps in their last set than their placebo-using counterparts. Food - or drink - for thought!)


So there are clearly some pretty awesome benefits to drinking coffee when it comes to your fitness. And you know what? The same goes for your health - but that's for next time. For now, enjoy your coffee break - and happy fitness!

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