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Coffee: A Personal Trainer’s Perspective

Coffee: A Personal Trainer’s Perspective
Can the worlds of coffee drinking, physical performance and health coincide?
The purpose of this article is to investigate coffee and the possible physiological effects of its consumption. I’ll be examining coffee and its relative physiological effect so as to come to a conclusion and provide optimising guidelines on its possible consumption for improved physical performance and physical aesthetic.
Note: I’ll be using caffeine and coffee synonymously and all recommendations of coffee consumption are without milk.
Where did this extremely popular beverage come from?
The History
(Circa A.D. 800)
A goat herder in Ethiopia saw his goats eat coffee beans and observed how much more they were moving than usual. The story goes that a Monk joined the Herder in consuming the coffee beans and noticed they were uncannily alert to divine inspiration.(1)
Around the same time other Africans were wrapping the beans in animal fat and eating them as a primitive power bar. Yummy!
(Circa 1000 to 1600)
In Arabia Muslims roasted and brewed the beans to make what we know today as coffee. This process soon spread into North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, and India.
(1615 to 1700)
Coffee spread to Europe with the Dutch taking the lead in importing and having the first European owned coffee estate in Colonial Java which now forms part of Indonesia.
(Circa 1727 to 1800)
The Brazilian government sent Colonel Palheta to France to acquire coffee seedlings so that Brazil could take part in the booming coffee market. This trip was no doubt successful and Brazil, to this day, remains one of the major players in the coffee market.
(1946 to 1971)
In 1946 the first espresso machine was invented and first used in the Gaggia Coffee Bar in Italy.
In 1971 the first Starbucks opens in Seattle. (1)
Coffee has become a modern mainstay of the industrialised nations. In fact, 4 of the top 5 countries with the highest consumption of coffee per capita are European, with Finland being the highest at 11.4kg per capita. (2)
What used to be a beverage reserved in the West for the social and intellectual elite, is now the preferred choice of beverage for an eclectic mix of the population.
The total integration of coffee into our daily routine has lead to two camps divided by the pros and cons of coffee consumption. One camp believes coffee to be a dangerous substance (25) and one that should be avoided at all costs whilst the other camp believes a good cup of coffee to be a health giving substance. (26)
“Black as the devil, Hot as hell, Pure as an angel, Sweet as love.”~Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord: Recipe for coffee
However, what effects does coffee have on performance and physical transformation?
So now let’s now delve in and see what we find.
Coffee and Physical Performance:
Coffee has been consumed by fitness enthusiasts for its stimulatory effect for decades.
Coffee is not only recognised as a physical enhancer by fitness enthusiasts but is so much so that it is also deemed a prohibited substance by the International Olympic Committee. An athlete can be disqualified if tested urine caffeine reaches 12mg or above. It would require approximately 3 cups of coffee to reach this limit. (3) Though this is subjective to an individual’s caffeine tolerance, caffeine consumption experience, physical state and environment. In a hot and humid environment an endurance athlete who is dehydrated would have concentrated levels of caffeine in their urine, even at low ingested levels. (4)
Coffee and Endurance:
A study found combining caffeine with carbohydrates post training resulted in a 66% increase in stored glucose. (14) Can you imagine having a 66% increase is glycogen? This would result in an increased resistance to fatigue in your next training session.
Caffeine ingestion of 3-9g per kg of body weight before an event can lead to increased performance in prolonged endurance events and short term intense exercise lasting less than 5 min. (5)
Peter Jansen in his book Lactate Threshold Training recommends that ingestion of 300mg of caffeine (equivalent to 3-4 cups of coffee) before an event can sustain an athlete 25-85% longer in an effort requiring 85% of the athletes VO2 max. (4)
A study conducted at the Department of Sport, Exercise and Biomedical Sciences, University of Luton, England, recorded improvements in endurance capabilities after ingestion of caffeine. Especially noted was its effect on improved time to exhaustion. (6)
It should be noted that most studies do not distinguish between habitual caffeine consumers and the abstainers. The endurance effects of caffeine on regular coffee drinkers were found to be negligible in a study conducted at Mcmaster University in Canada. It was concluded that 6mg of caffeine to every 1kg of body weight administered to athletic subjects (Varsity level runners) 60 minutes before testing, did not alter previously recorded heart rate, perceived exertion, and plasma levels of glucose or lactate after 90 minutes on a treadmill at 70% of VO2max. (23)
There certainly is a mountain of empirical evidence supporting caffeine as an aid to endurance activities, specifically in non regular coffee drinkers performing distances from 800m to 10k and time to exhaustion.
The fact that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) have limits on their athlete’s caffeine consumption should propound the legitimate use of caffeine as an ergogenic aid for the amateur endurance athlete.
Coffee and Strength:
I consume a caffeine based product 10-15min before a neurally demanding (strength, power) training session. I have found it to be helpful in motivation, concentration and have noted improvements in endurance (+1-2rep) and small increments of weight lifted.
A study conducted in 1992 at the Oklahoma State University found improvements in the strength of knee flexion and extension at differing angles, velocities and rep ranges from 3 reps to 21 reps in male collegiate athletes when administered with 7 mg of caffeine per kg of bodyweight. (7)
Improvements in sprint speed and multiple tests of speed and accuracy during sport specific (rugby) circuits were noted when competitive rugby players ingested 6mg of caffeine per kg of body weight. (8)
Charles Poliquin, a world renowned Olympic strength coach recommends a strong cup of coffee when preparing for an ultimate workout. (9)
Bill Crawford, a two time medal winner at the Arnold WPO Bench Press Championships, is said to consume a cup of coffee before benching some serious iron. (10)
Coffee and Aesthetic:
Fat Loss:
Studies have found caffeine to be useful in increasing thermogenises (body heat, thusly metabolic rate) and weight maintenance after a low calorie diet. (11)(12)
This explains the high percentage of weight loss supplements containing caffeine in them.
Caffeine stimulates the Sympathetic Nervous System resulting in stimulation of the adrenals to release catecholamines (Dopamine, Epinephrine, Norepinephrine). Catecholamines induce lipolysis (breakdown of stored fat) through the stimulation of Cyclic Amp (Cyclic adenosine monophosphate). Cyclic AMP is the signal for the breakdown of stored glucose and fats to be used by the body. Coffee contains methylxanthines which prevents the breakdown of Cyclic AMP (Cyclic adenosine monophosphate) thusly improving the likelihood for lipolysis to occur and to continue. (13)
Consuming caffeine as part of a well structured fat loss program could be of some use, especially if taken before a fat loss session using endurance based program protocols.
Remember caffeine won’t make you lean by itself; it just increases the fat use potential!
Hypertrophy (muscle building) and Recovery:
The ability of caffeine to increase glucose storage post workout by as much as 66% when compared to just consuming solely carbohydrates (14) would be beneficial to any athlete, especially endurance athletes to aid recovery and performance.
Athletes using sarcoplasmic (structural) hypertrophy rep ranges (8-15+) and a TUT (time under tension) protocol of between 40-70-sec such as bodybuilders, would also benefit from increased glycogen to aid performance and recovery. The increased glycogen would create a fuller looking muscle also.
The increased strength (7,8,9,10), catecholamines output (13) and endurance (4,5,6,14) would facilitate a possible increase in motor unit recruitment and TUT of them, thusly improving a hypertrophy response.
From the above we can see that coffee, through different mechanism can improve strength, endurance, fat loss and hypertrophy. Drinking coffee will not result in the improvement of these physical qualities if you sit around all day watching Judge Judy and having Ben and Jerry as your only eating partners. Coffee is an ergogenic aid, a drug, a compliment to an already good diet, training regime and lifestyle, not a compensator for a bad one.
If you’re feeling like I am, you’ll be reaching for an espresso and be eager to start a training session. Before you do so, there are a few things to consider:
-Coffee may have high levels of pesticide residues (17)
-Coffee is an adrenal stressor (15)
-Caffeine has a 6hr half life (15)
-Coffee is an irritant to the colon (16)
-Coffee may have a decreased physiological effect on frequent coffee drinkers (23)
Coffee consumption like most things is subject to the individual. How one reacts to a cup of coffee is very much dependant on quality, quantity, time of day, food eaten, age, caffeine experience, body weight, neurotransmitter dominance (19), metabolic type (20), Genotype (21) and so on. In fact a study into research of Nutrigenomics (nutrition and DNA) found that coffee actually increases or decreases bio markers for heart attacks, depending on the individual consuming. (21, 24)
In light of this information here are some guidelines I would implement when consuming coffee.
1.Make sure it is from an organic source. Very easy to buy now.
2.You should treat coffee and caffeine products as a drug. Ironically the body can only deal with drugs when it is healthy. Make sure you are healthy enough to consume such substances. In particular the adrenals should be showing no symptoms of dysfunction.
***Tired for no reason
***Having trouble getting up in the morning
***Need coffee, colas, salty or sweet snacks to keep going
***Feeling run down and stressed
***Crave salty or sweet snacks
***Struggling to keep up with life’s daily demands
***Can’t bounce back from stress or illness
***Not having fun anymore
***Decreased sex drive
Do not drink coffee because you are tired and fatigued. It should be used to compliment how great and energetic you feel already.
3.Consume caffeine beverages, especially coffee, before 10:30am. This gives 12hrs before you should sleep. Aiming to sleep by 10:30pm is in accordance with natural circadian rhythms. (18)
4.Coffee granules are used in enemas as they irritate the colon instigating peristaltic contractions. This can be useful when constipated but for oral consumption I loosely recommend consuming coffee with food. Why I say loosely is because I sometimes have espresso on an empty stomach with no obvious problems.
5.Consume coffee at different times before a session. This enables you to find the optimal time to consume before a session. I find for myself 10-15min to be perfect. Any earlier and I feel it in my gut.
6.Cycle coffee consumption. It is common practice to cycle supplements such as creatine, protein powders and testosterone enhancers. The same practice should be applied with coffee consumption so as to ensure an optimum physiological response. Two examples would be 5 days on 2 days off and 3 days on 1 day off.
7.Rotate coffee sources. Make it common practice to consume different coffee sources. This could be done by frequenting one establishment over another during each cycle and if you make your own coffee simply buy multiple sources of coffee. This will ensures exposure to varied antioxidant content and lessen the concentration of any possible pesticides in the coffee.
8.Personally assess how you react to coffee. If you feel nervous, get the jitters and or can’t sleep when needed then coffee may not be for you.
Notable health and fitness leaders that consume coffee are Dr. Lonnie Lowery Ph.D, Charles Poliquin CSCS, Paul Chek HHP, Dr. William Wong ND and Arthur De Vaney Ph.D.
It’s 9:30am so I’m off to enjoy an organic espresso.
Hope you found the article interesting and informative.
Health and Happiness,
Michael Hannon Personal Trainer
© Michael Hannon, 2009

For recommended reading on health and fitness topics and a list of books referenced please copy and paste –
(3) Essentials of Strength and Conditioning, Thomas R. Baechle, Roger W. Earle
(4) Lactate Threshold Training, Peter Jansen, MD
(5) ACSM, Report on Caffeine and Exercise Performance,
(6) Effects of caffeine ingestion on exercise testing: a meta-analysis, Doherty M, Smith PM.
(13) Biochemistry Primer for Exercise Science, Michael E. Houston, page 120
(15) How to Eat, Move and be Healthy, page 203, Paul Chek
(16) How to Eat, Move and be Healthy, page 221, Paul Chek
(18) How to Eat, Move and be Healthy, page 202, Paul Chek
(19) The Edge Effect, Dr. R. Braverman
(20) The Metabolic Typing Diet, William Wolcott, Trish Fahey
(21) Listed are three coffee related studies