A cup of coffee is the favourite way to kick start the day for a huge number of us, for some it’s just the taste, for others it’s become a necessity to get you through the day ahead but for many it’s now the go-to pre-workout beverage to boost endurance and performance.

The cup of Joe, however, has been steeped in a myriad of controversies, conflicting evidence and a huge amount of speculation.

So exactly how much is too much caffeine?

How does it actually affect performance?

And more importantly how can you use it effectively to see improvements in your sport, work and life?

Caffeine for performance

Numerous studies have been conducted over the years to test the world’s favourite drug. A meta-analysis of 250 studies showed that caffeine has the ability to enhance physical and mental performance in numerous ways. Here are some of the conclusions drawn by this meta-analysis.

  1. Caffeine is beneficial for endurance exercise with the positive effect lasting for several hours during the exercise.
  • Caffeine was shown to significantly boost physical performance when exercising in the heat and contrary to previous beliefs no evidence was found for the so-called “dehydrating” effect of caffeine or excessive loss of electrolytes.
  • Caffeine has a positive impact on strength and boosts both endurance and muscle strength training performance.
  • Caffeine is also known to increase your pain threshold for 24-4 8 hours post-exercise.

 

How does coffee boost performance?

The active ingredient in coffee is the natural stimulant, caffeine which is also found in tea, chocolate, and energy drinks.  It acts as a performance enhancer by blocking the adenosine receptors that are located all over the body and the brain that cause a slowdown of neural activity, making us drowsy. By blocking these receptors, caffeine makes us more focused and energetic.

The bad news for the coffee addicts out there is that there is a safe upper limit to your caffeine consumption and some pretty nasty side effects if you do go over this…

How much should you drink and when?

Although the amount of caffeine can vary depending on the strength of the blend, composition or brewing method, a cup of coffee on an average contains around 120 mg of caffeine. It is believed that up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is safe for most healthy adults, although I would recommend to aim for slightly less than that.

If you’re drinking more than four cups of coffee per day then this can amount to over 600 mg of caffeine which is a very high dose and probably means you’ll be experiencing headaches, insomnia, irritability, stomach upsets and possibly even an elevated heart rate and muscle tremors. None of these symptoms are normal! So if you think you have a bit of a caffeine addiction, tone it down, your body will really thank you for it.

My recommendation is “2 before 2” – no more than two cups of coffee that should be consumed before 2pm. I also suggest that you don’t start your day with a coffee. If you get in the habit of kick-starting your day with caffeine, not only do you tend to consume more throughout the day, but you also reduce your bodies sensitivity to caffeine, meaning that it becomes less effective as a stimulant.

How much is too much?

One of the biggest problems I see with excessive caffeine consumption is the impact it has on sleep and recovery. You may think that the double espresso at the end of your meal is just a nice way to end your evening, but your central nervous system certainly doesn’t.

Caffeine is a stimulant with a half-life of 3-5 hours, meaning that it will take this amount of time for your body to eliminate half of this drug, the remainder will take significantly longer.

Consuming caffeine later in the day makes it harder for you to fall asleep, reducing your total sleep time and also the amount of deep sleep that you can enjoy. Consuming caffeine even six hours before bedtime has shown to reduce total sleep time by up to an hour, hence, my 2 before 2 rule.

Sleep is vitally important for recovery, repair and physical and cognitive performance. Sleep deprivation has now become a world-wide problem – ironically managed by most people through further caffeine consumption!

 

My approach to caffeine consumption is very similar to the way I approach good nutrition.

If you want to succeed in sport, work and life, then you need to get yourself into a proactive state. If you often find yourself in a reactive state when it comes to nutrition, then I guarantee you’re setting yourself up for failure. Your body should be in control of the substances it allows in rather than giving in to cravings.

Most people fail with their fat loss goals because they simply don’t plan ahead with their nutrition, they eat on the go and because they are not in control they often need excess sugar to give them an energy boost but as soon as their blood sugar levels plummet they need another hit to get themselves going again. All day long they react in this way consuming the wrong foods, excess calories, and dealing with mood swings and low energy levels.

Caffeine consumption is the same. If you simply HAVE to down a cup of coffee before you can even consider starting your day, then you’ve got a problem and you need to gain back control.

Start the day the night before with a decent night’s sleep. Drink a pint of water first thing to re-hydrate your body and sit down and enjoy your mid-morning coffee rather than grabbing it on the go.

What to have with your coffee to optimise performance?

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then you’ll know that I’m a big fan of black coffee with MCT oil to maximize the performance benefits of caffeine. Black coffee is a powerhouse of antioxidants including polyphenols, hydrocinnamic acid, cafestol, and trigonelline. These are compounds that protect the body cells against free radical damage that result in chronic illnesses.

MCT or medium chain triglycerides are a type of fatty acids naturally present in coconut oils.  These triglycerides are quickly absorbed in the body as compared to other types of fats making MCT an instant source of healthy energy.

MCT is known to promote fat burning and boosts your metabolic rate while having a positive effect on endurance and performance. Adding MCT to black coffee ensures sustained energy release over four to five hours as against the quick spike from caffeine in water.

I’m a big fan of a lunchtime workout and so I enjoy my Can Do Brew late morning and feel like I’m firing on all cylinders come lunchtime! We’ve found a great coffee supplier in underdog coffee and our clients and my team are reaping the benefits!