Is Coffee Good for You?

(Image credit: Unknown)

Coffee is a glorious drink. It drives workplaces all over the world, combating morning grogginess and post-lunch slumps, and provides the perfect foil for a first date.

Despite all of this, coffee has spent years being viewed with unwarranted suspicion regarding its impact on health. It’s loaded with caffeine, which we know is addictive and bad for you in large quantities – more on this in how much coffee is too much? in which Dr Nick Knight talks us through the effects of caffeine. 

Coffee may come with some potential downsides, but it also has multiple health benefits, according to research. And sure, caffeine is addictive, but it’s hardly heroin. Cutting out caffeine might give you headaches for a couple of days, but it’s not going to result in hallucinations of swivel-headed toddlers set to Born Slippy.

Don’t take our word for it. In April 2016 a review of evidence relating to the health risks and benefits of coffee came down firmly on the side of the sacred bean, finding that its health benefits (or null effects) clearly outweighed the risks of moderate consumption. The review looked at all manner of diseases and conditions, including cardiovascular diseases, cancers and overall mortality.

If that’s not enough to make you want to immediately grab a cup of java, read on for ten more reasons why coffee is good for you. We also find out when the most beneficial time to drink coffee is. And then take a look at how it can help complement your training.

10 Ways Coffee Is Good For You

1. Coffee is associated with a reduced chance of developing prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men with one in eight getting it during their lifetime (a number that increases to one in four among black men). One way you might be able to reduce your risk of prostate cancer is by downing three espressos a day, according to a study by the Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed (IRCCS) in Pozzilli, Italy.

The study tracked 7,000 men and their coffee consumption habits for four years. Those who drank three or more cups of espresso per day were found to have a 53% reduced risk of getting prostate cancer compared with those who drank two or fewer cups. The effect was most likely to be due to the caffeine in the coffee, rather than any other substance, so keep it real rather than opting for decaf when you order your espresso.

2. It helps guard against type 2 diabetes

A recent UCLA study found that six cups of coffee a day could reduce your risk of getting type 2 diabetes by up to a third. That’s a lot of coffee (beyond the recommended daily maximum intake of 400mg of caffeine – crazy scientists!), but daily consumption of any amount of the stuff lowered the likelihood of developing the disease.

3. It helps guard against neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s

Research published in the American journal Neurology found a link between regular coffee consumption – as little as one cup a day – and a lower risk of Parkinson’s.

4. It has a potential protective effect against Alzheimer’s

Research shows that coffee leads to enhanced firing of neurons in the brain, which improves cognitive function and so lessens your likelihood of developing dementia.

5. It decreases your likelihood of being depressed and suicidal

In 2013 researchers looked at studies that had followed more than 200,000 people over 14 years, and found that those who drank two to four cups of coffee a day were 50% less likely to commit suicide than those who either drank decaf or fewer cups of coffee.

6. It keeps the Grim Reaper at bay

When scientists collected data on the coffee-drinking habits of 130,000 men and women and followed them for over 20 years, they found that people that drink two to five cups a day have a slightly lower all-cause mortality.

7. It boosts your metabolism by anywhere from 3-11%

...which helps you to burn fat more efficiently.

8. It can be good for your blood pressure

Having analysed 36 different studies with 1,270,000 participants, researchers concluded that people who drank in moderation, defined as three to five cups a day, actually lower their risk of developing heart disease or stroke.

9. It improves your athletic performance

Coffee does this by breaking down body fat, releasing fatty acids into the blood stream, which are then used as fuel.

10. It protects your liver

Researchers at the World Cancer Research Fund International found that drinking two or more coffees a day cuts your risk of developing liver cancer by as much as 40%. The results suggest that if you drink three cups a day, the risks are reduced by more than 50%. Coffee is also heavily implicated in fighting off the effects of alcohol on the liver – drinking two or more cups of coffee every day can reduce the risk of death from liver cirrhosis by 66%.

The 5 Most Beneficial Times to Drink Coffee

1. After a marathon

Coffee is a diuretic (it makes you want to go), but it is not known to dehydrate you – and as caffeine has been shown to aid the absorption of carbohydrates, a coffee after the race will help you restock once you’re ready to eat.

2. When a headache or migraine threatens

Migraine patients report that a strong cup of coffee can stop an attack in its tracks. Caffeine is a key active ingredient in many prescription and over-the-counter headache medications and has been proven to make them 40% more effective than those without caffeine.

3. Between 10am and 12pm or 2pm and 5pm

Recent research shows early morning is the worst time of day for coffee due to the high levels of cortisol (a hormone released in response to stress and low blood glucose) in our bodies first thing. Taking in caffeine when cortisol levels are high can mean the body ends up producing less of it when it’s needed, so drink later.

4. A couple of weeks before a dental check-up

Research published in the Journal Of Applied Microbiology, Brazil found that coffee with a high caffeine content, drunk without milk or sugar, can protect your teeth. Coffee, especially the more acidic brews, has an antibacterial quality that can break down and kill the film of bacteria on teeth that causes plaque and leads to tooth decay.

5. An hour before a workout

Caffeine, a legal stimulant under International Olympic Committee rules, is the most popular drug in sports. Coventry University found that athletes performed 16% better if they had ingested caffeine 70 minutes beforehand. Caffeine boosts fatty acids in your system, allowing your muscles to absorb and burn fats for fuel.

Is Coffee Good For Athletes?

Gaby Doman, a strength-training obsessed health and fitness writer who trained at the American Council of Education, explains how coffee can complement your training.

We’re used to being told that all the little treats we indulge in are bad for us – Friday night beers, those pre-packaged snacks and that three-a-day coffee habit you just can’t kick. But the good news is, science is turning the tables on the caffeine argument and the latest evidence points to the fact that it can not only be part of a healthy lifestyle but can actually help accelerate your fitness goals.

It’s long been known that caffeine is an effective pre-workout booster for endurance athletes, to give you that extra kick you need to push a little further. Caffeine’s so effective it was even one of the substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency until 2004 and then was a “controlled or restricted substance” as defined by the International Olympic Committee.

More evidence is emerging that caffeine can boost the performance of athletes across the board, whether you’re training aerobically or anaerobically. A study in 2012 of 13 fit men at Coventry University asked them to complete two weight lifting workouts 48 hours apart, one with a caffeine-packed energy drink, one with a placebo. They all fatigued much later when they’d had caffeine first. The theory behind these kinds of results is that caffeine reduces adenosine levels, which helps delay fatigue and allows the muscles to produce more forceful contractions, for longer.

What does it actually do?

Caffeine works on two levels. Firstly, it blocks the neurotransmitters that promote relaxation, making us feel more aware and likely to push further and harder, making it ideal for endurance athletes. Secondly, it has the physical effect of helping us to burn more fat. When consumed pre-workout, caffeine causes fat cells to be used as an energy source. It also helps suppress your appetite and raise your metabolism, helping you burn more calories all day long.

Caffeine is used as an active ingredient in a lot of pre-workout supplements because it provides the perfect energy boost you need after a long day at the office or to kick-start an otherwise sluggish morning workout, while boosting muscle endurance and strength. It can even keep you going beyond your pain barrier due to its abilities to slightly numb muscle pain.

RECOMMENDED: The Best Fat Burners

The icing on the cake? Not only can you go harder, longer and with more accuracy thanks to improved focus, but you can also look forward to relief from DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), according to a study conducted by the University of Illinois.

There are no solid guidelines as to how much caffeine you should take for optimum results because it depends on your tolerance, but around 100-200mg, which translates to a cup or two of coffee, before you work out is usually enough. Caffeine will keep you awake at night so, where possible, have it earlier in the day. A good night’s sleep is more important for reaching your fitness goals than pre-workout caffeine hit any day. Also, bear in mind that too much caffeine may decrease performance by making you jittery and lightheaded.

One caution: coffee might be losing its undeserved reputation as a health baddie, but that doesn’t mean you can add a caramel latte with extra cream to your diet and not see adverse effects. Skip the cream and sugar if you want to see results.

Bridget was a freelance journalist who contributed features to the print edition of Coach in 2016.

With contributions from