Tips from Nancy Clark
COFFEE: Filtering the facts
"I have 2 cups of coffee in the morning. How bad is that...???
"Should I drink coffee before I exercise?"
"Does coffee count towards my daily water requirement?"
Coffee is a universally loved beverage. Every culture the world
around enjoys some type of caffeinated beverage, be it tea in England
and Japan, espresso in Italy, or a "coffee regular" in
Questions abound about the role of coffee in a sports diet: Is coffee
good, bad or irrelevant? The purpose of this article is to answer
of the questions athletes commonly ask about coffee as it relates
their daily diet as well as to their exercise program.
Is coffee bad for me? That is, will it hurt my health?
Because coffee is so widely consumed, it has been extensively researched.
To date, there is no obvious connection between caffeine and heart
disease, cancer or blood pressure. Hence, the general answer, according
to leading medical and scientific experts, is normal coffee consumption
produces no adverse health effects. (The average American consumes
200 milligram caffeine per day; the equivalent of about 8 to 10
ounces??an average mug?-?of coffee.) For the 10% of Americans who
ingest more than 1,000 milligrams caffeine per day and sustain themselves
on the cream and sugar in coffee plus a few cigarettes alongside,
heart disease is indeed more common??and linked to the poor diet
and unhealthful lifestyle.
What does coffee do to my body?
The caffeine in coffee is a mild stimulant that increases the activity
of the central nervous system. Hence, caffeine helps you stay alert
and enhances mental focus. Caffeine's stimulant effect peaks in
about one hour and then declines as the liver breaks down the caffeine.
If you are an occasional coffee drinker, you'll tend to be more
sensitive to caffeine's stimulant effects as compared to the daily
coffee consumer who has developed a tolerance to caffeine. What
about coffee and women?
Pregnant women should prudently limit caffeine to less than 300
per day (<12 ounces of coffee). Women who are trying to get pregnant
might want to reduce caffeine intake even more, but more research
needed to clarify the controversy over the effects of caffeine on
fertility. Women who are worried about getting osteoporosis may
heard that caffeine is linked to low bone density. The solution
consume at least 8 ounces of milk per day. How about putting more
in your coffee or enjoying some lattes?
Do people get addicted to coffee?
Although coffee has been a popular beverage for centuries, its sustained
popularity fails to classify it as "addictive." Coffee
is not associated with the behaviors found with hard drugs (such
as a need for more and more coffee, anti-social behavior, severe
difficulty stopping consumption). If you are a regular coffee drinker
who decides to cut coffee out of your diet, you may develop headaches,
fatigue or drowsiness. The solution: gradually decrease your caffeine
intake rather than eliminate coffee cold turkey. And be aware, if
you should get a headache due to caffeine withdrawal, caffeine-containing
medicines such as Anacin or Excedrin will foil your efforts to reduce
your caffeine intake!
How much caffeine is in espresso?
Ounce for ounce, espresso is about twice as strong as coffee (35
vs 18 milligrams caffeine per ounce of Starbuck's). But because
the espresso serving is so small, you end up with less caffeine:
35 mg from one shot (one ounce) of espresso vs 140 mg from an 8-ounce
How much caffeine do Coke and Pepsi have compared to coffee?
The typical 9-ounce mug of coffee averages 200 milligrams of caffeine.
This is about 5 times more than the 35 to 50 milligrams in a can
of cola. The real kick from soft drinks comes from sugar, not caffeine.
If I drink too much beer, will coffee help me sober up?
No. Coffee will just make you a wide-awake drunk. Coffee does not
speed the time needed for the liver to detoxify alcohol. But coffee
does get some water into your body, and that can have a positive
Does coffee count towards my daily fluid needs?
Yes. All fluids count--plain water, juice, soup, watermelon--and
even coffee. The rumor that coffee dehydrates people lacks scientific
support. Yes, coffee can make you urinate more in two hours??but
not in 24 hours. Even during exercise in the heat, athletes can
consume coffee and not be concerned about dehydration.
What about pre-exercise coffee: Will it help me perform better?
Perhaps. Studies suggest caffeine taken an hour pre-exercise can
enhance performance and make the effort seem easier. Caffeine also
mobilizes fat so more gets burned for fuel. Some researchers believe
this helps athletes burn less glycogen and enhances endurance. The
recommended "dose" is about 1.5 to 3 milligrams caffeine
per pound body weight (225 to 450 mg caffeine for a 150 lb person;
the equivalent of 10 to 20 ounces of coffee). Caffeine's response
varies from person to person. Hence, trial and error will teach
you the best practices regarding caffeine intake for your body.
If you are unaccustomed to drinking coffee, take heed: Consuming
mugful of coffee on an empty stomach an hour before, let's say a
event or a rugby game, can leave you feeling unduly jittery, nervous
suffering from "coffee stomach." Yet, if you always drink
you exercise, you'll likely want to maintain that practice before
competition--if for no other reason than it can promote regular
movements and keep you out of the portatoilets mid event.
Isn't caffeine considered an illegal drug by the Olympic Committee?
Yes, caffeine in very high doses is considered illegal by the IOC.
However the amount most athletes generally consume is far below
the legal limit. You'd have to drink 3 to 4 mugs within the hour
pre-exercise to reach the limit. That much would likely hurt performance...
Nancy Clark, MS, RD is Director of Nutrition Services
at SportsMedicine Associates in Brookline MA. She is author of Nancy
Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Second Edition ($23) and her
new Food Guide for Marathoners: Tips for Everyday Champions ($20).
Both are available via www.nancyclarkrd.com
or by sending a check to Sports Nutrition Materials, 830 Boylston
St #205, Brookline MA 02467.
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