Why you should drink coffee for better physical and mental health
Over 100 research studies have scientifically proven that drinking coffee is good for you. To summarize, the natural antioxidants consumed during coffee consumption can reduce the risk of Cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, Parkinson's, various Heart Diseases and the risk of a Stroke. (I wrote about that here).
But are there other ways that coffee can boost your physical health, mental health, and even athletic performance?
Coffee Helps to Burn Fat & Boost Energy
Even though Decaf still contains many of the health benefits of regular coffee, caffeine gives your metabolism a boost, which increases your body's ability to burn fat both during, and a few hours after exercise.
Caffeine enters your bloodstream about 15 minutes after consumption, and the peak effect is around an hour afterwards. Your blood pressure and heart rate will increase slightly, fat stores are broken down, and fatty acids are released into the bloodstream. This will give you a wonderful energetic feeling, and is perfect for starting a workout!
Caffeine can also suppress your appetite, albeit for a short time (although this hasn't been scientifically proven). Which can mean that you consume less calories during the day. And while you are not eating, it is also helping to burn calories at a higher rate, even during rest.
IF (Intermittent Fasting) & OMAD (One Meal A Day)
OK, here's where it gets really interesting (and personal).
Intermittent Fasting is where you split your 24 hours in a day into time you are allowed to eat, and time that you fast. Many people start with a 16:8 split and go from there. Here is a good article about it: What is IF and how does it work?
During the times where you are not eating, you are allowed water, and zero-calorie beverages such as black coffee and tea. This is where good quality coffee really shines, as many people have used cream and sugar to make bad coffee palatable. So if you want to participate in IF, you need good black coffee!
For me, I was having trouble eating breakfast. After years of cereal, toast, and trying other healthier options, my stomach just decided it didn't like breakfast at all. Eating anything in the morning made me feel ill. But then I was also hungry and miserable if I didn't. After experimenting with a few different options, I've found the perfect solution for me. Between 8am - 9am I have a large black coffee, and then I'm not hungry again until about midday, so have lunch and dinner as usual. I have happily fallen into a 16:8 Intermittent Fasting Plan, and feel so much better for it.
OMAD (One Meal A Day) is just an extension of intermittent fasting. Think about it as a 23:1 plan where you fast for 23 hours and eat for 1. It's a more extreme eating plan, difficult to start and maintain, and can be hard to get the right amount of nutrients in a short timespan.
Whilst studies have shown significant benefits from IF (better cognitive performance, better cardiovascular health, stronger physical performance, lower risk of diabetes and obesity, and improved surgical outcomes), I can't find anything that strongly supports OMAD.
Caffeine consumption can also increase athletic performance. The International society of sports nutrition found that, "Caffeine is effective for enhancing various types of performance when consumed in low-to-moderate doses". Their studies also found that Caffeine is an effective aid for sustained endurance activity, and has also been shown to be very effective for enhancing time trial performance.
The best benefits were for sports that were high intensity and long duration, like soccer, hockey, rugby etc. And especially good for anything involving extended, exhausting exercise like time trials, triathlons, Ironman etc.
Better Concentration & Mental Health
Alongside its well-established effects on physical performance, caffeine also exerts acute cognitive benefits, especially when tired. This has been explored in military personnel, with caffeine demonstrated to improve cognitive aspects such as vigilance, memory, and mood, along with physical performance, both during overnight operations and following sleep restriction.
Too much coffee can give you the jitters and cause anxiety, but studies have shown that coffee drinkers are significantly less likely to be depressed than non-coffee drinkers.
My favourite example of a mental health benefit, and something I've learned during this pandemic, is Fika. Fika is a Swedish term (Sweden being 6th on our Coffee Consumption list!) for 'coffee and a cake break', but means so much more than that. It means slow down, appreciate what you have, and make time for friends. Take the time to focus on having a coffee, relax, meditate, whatever makes you feel good for 5 minutes.
Fika (savouring the moment) is a simple, deliberate activity, that helps separate work life from home life if you're working from home. It allows you to enjoy your coffee, and not just 'grab a coffee to go'.
I reached out to a few of my favourite food and fitness people to hear what they had to say about how coffee has impacted their health.
Nelson from Photos & Food
"When I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes three years ago, I made some drastic changes to my lifestyle. I wanted to be around for a very long time and ideally not needs meds. I cut out foods with sugar, added whole foods to my diet and started moving more. I’ve dropped 60lbs and I’ve never needed meds to control my blood sugar so far."
"I’m resourceful in the kitchen, so I came up with lots of new food and beverage options to keep me happy. Coffee is definitely close to the top of my faves when it comes to flavours I can keep enjoying without impacting my blood sugar. It took me a few weeks, but now I don’t need sugar in any of my coffee beverages. Plus, I get to enjoy the unmasked real flavour of delicious coffee by local roasters like Black Creek Coffee."
"My go to's are espressos, americanos, lattes and more recently pour over coffee."
Antonietta from Nourished Insideout
"My morning always starts with an espresso, as coffee plays a huge role in my health regime."
"Before I leave for work where mental function is so necessary for me in order to do a great job, my cup of Java is totally necessary. Coffee gives me that extra boost to stay on task and get it all done."
"I look forward to my second coffee before my workout since it significantly helps improves my physical performance. It increases my energy level before and during my workout. It definitely is my go-to and with its health benefits, different vitamins and minerals, and it helps to burn fat and improves memory. I couldn’t do without it!"
In summary, coffee is scientifically proven to be good for you, can help enhance athletic performance, can boost mental health, and can help with healthy eating plans such as intermittent fasting.