Steve Bui, M.S.
Chances are as you are reading this article you have already gulped down at least one cup of coffee for the day. This age old drink has been the secret weapon for many who need to wake up early, need to increase productivity throughout the day, or just simply need to supplement any meal with a hot beverage. What makes coffee so great and why does it keep you energized? The history of coffee begins in the Ethiopian highlands, when a traveler noticed animals eating berries that gave them increased energy and vitality. Upon trying the berries for himself, he experienced similar effects. Soon after, coffee’s popularity increased, and was then quickly cultivated and traded. Coffee today is grown in several countries and continents, all of which can be traced back to Ethiopia.
One key ingredient in coffee is caffeine. Caffeine is basically a stimulant. It shares a very similar chemical structure with a compound in the body known as adenosine. Adenosine tells your body when it is time to rest. Caffeine’s similar structure permits it to bind to the adenosine receptors, hiding high levels of adenosine which then slows down the rate of perceived fatigue. This delay in fatigue from caffeine has been shown in numerous studies to have an ergogenic effect regarding aerobic exercises such as distance running and cycling. Individuals have been able to run faster and with increased times to exhaustion when ingesting caffeine before exercise. Increased power output has also been documented in the same exercises. Unfortunately, few studies have explored caffeine’s effects on strength training exercises.
While coffee has been known to be beneficial in delaying fatigue, many other benefits are not as commonly known. Antioxidants in the coffee bean itself have been shown to reduce inflammation, thus potentially decreasing chances for cellular tumor growth (cancer). Furthermore, longitudinal studies conducted with coffee drinkers have been shown them to have less risk for depression, stroke, liver cirrhosis, and diabetes. While the mechanisms behind how coffee causes these decreased risks are still unknown, it is clear that caffeine has a positive effect.
Just like any other food or substance, moderate coffee intake will have the best benefits. Excess can cause anxiety, jitteriness, and headaches. With moderation, coffee can provide a plethora of benefits, so don’t hesitate to grab a second cup next time!
- Butt & Sultan. Coffee and its Consumption: Benefits and Risks. Food Science and Nutrition Volume 51, Issue 4, 2011 Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2011 Apr;51(4):363-73.