Coffee in Health & Sport

Make coffee work for you, not against you.

Are you a coffee drinker? A proud coffee addict? Do you work-out? Do you have health and performance goals?

Then here are tips for you how to make coffee work for you, not against you!

Many coffee drinkers start their day with a cup of coffee, but is the best thing to do? Let’s explore what it means for an average person or even for an athlete.
“65% of all coffee is consumed during breakfast hours, 30% between meals, and the remaining 5% with other meals.”  (, 2019)

How you drink coffee matters

Imagine the following scenario: You wake up before your alarm goes off, turn on your coffee machine and go to toilet. Maybe you even have a pre-programmed coffee machine that will brew a fresh cup of coffee for you and wake you up with unmistakable smell.You grab your cup of freshly brewed espresso, breath in the aroma a take sip as you read newspaper, scroll through Instagram and enjoy your breakfast. Maybe you enjoy some kind of movement before your breakfast like run, yoga or even break a sweat during a workout session. You feel energized and ready to take on the world.
However, most of the people I work with have different experience. They wake up to the alarm, in better case the first one of five they have set in five minute intervals. Then they hit the bathroom trying to quickly get in their morning routine consisting of coordination practice (balancing on one foot and putting on trousers while brushing your teeth with the other hand), HIIT in form of running to a bus stop to catch their connection to work or school while trying to balance their cup of coffee so it does not spill outside. That is if they don’t forget it at home. With a breakfast…and a child.
Hopefully, I managed to paint a vivid picture for you here. The context always matters! But besides that, let’s dive into mechanisms of the black gold!

Quality matters 

First and foremost, quality matters. You cannot expect the same taste, quality of beans, processing (roasting, cooling, storing) across the market. Even if you don’t feel the difference in taste, I am sure your body will react differently to high-quality coffee and to cheap coffee waste.
Over the past five years working in a coffee industry I have heard it all. People having health issues, problems with stomach acid, stomach ulcers or anxiety feelings and they blamed it on coffee.
At first I did not know how to react to their claims but now I know. It can be easily associated with quality of the coffee and one even more important factor – their lifestyle. They would fall into the second category described above. Constantly in stress and abusing caffeine to get a feeling of energy.
“Although clinical practice guidelines recommend that people with IBD avoid caffeine, there are more clinical and experimental evidences indicating a possible prospective effect of coffee and its components to IBS symptoms or other inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.”  (Nieber, 2017)
In general, coffee has been linked to many benefits, from managing type II diabetes, cardiovascular health, blood pressure management, liver health  (Nieber, 2017) and it is a well researched supplements used in sports and military.

When you drink coffee matters

Why I don’t drink coffee first thing in the morning and why you might not either

Hydration – although coffee is not dehydrating “…data suggest that coffee, when consumed in moderation by caffeine habituated males provides similar hydrating qualities to water.”  (Killer, Blannin and Jeukendrup, 2014)

I want to re-hydrate myself first. Drinking water springs me more than a cup of coffee. Try it for yourself and see.

Cortisol and caffeine
“Cortisol’s effects include controlling the body’s blood sugar levels and thus regulating metabolism, acting as an anti-inflammatory, influencing memory formation, controlling salt and water balance, influencing blood pressure and helping development of the foetus.”(, 2019)
The symptoms of too much cortisol include:
  • rapid weight gain mainly in the face, chest and abdomen contrasted with slender arms and legs
  • a flushed and round face
  • high blood pressure
  • osteoporosis
  • skin changes (bruises and purple stretch marks)
  • muscle weakness
  • mood swings, which show as anxiety, depression or irritability
  • increased thirst and frequency of urination ( I can personally attest to that!)
  • problems building and retaining muscle mass.
Our cortisol peaks in the morning hours , about 30 minutes after waking up. (ZRT Laboratory, 2019)

Source: ZRT Laboratory. (2019)

If you drink coffee several times a day, especially in the afternoon, you are at risk of developing chronic stress, especially if you are already physically and mentally stressed.


If you consume caffeine during this time, your response to caffeine’s stimulating effects is blunted, which leads people to increase dosage and develop caffeine tolerance.

Then, when you need it, you need to drink more coffee /get more caffeine!
Moreover, habitual caffeine consumption throughout the day spikes cortisol levels, which may lead to potential health issues over longer periods of time by keeping your cortisol elevated.
Some compounds in coffee (even decaffeinated) affect our appetite indirectly by affecting Peptide YY.  PYY is a gut hormone that influences our other hunger-affecting hormones.
Compared with the placebo, decaffeinated coffee yielded significantly lower hunger and higher plasma PYY (p<0.05) “ (Harpaz et al., 2019)
What it means is that after coffee, your hunger might be suppressed. However, some people report the opposite effects so notice how coffee affects your hunger. Anecdotally speaking, my hunger gets suppressed for 30-60 minutes after drinking coffee.

Table 1 Caffeine content chart (according to data from Nieber, K. (2017)).


mg of caffeine



*Due to brewing method, plant variety, brand, formulation etc.

Coffee (240 ml)

Brewed, drip method


65 – 120



60 – 85



2 – 4

Espresso (30 ml)


30 – 50

Teas (240 ml)

Brewed, major U. S. brands


20 – 90

Brewed, imported brands


25 – 110



24 – 31



9 – 50

Soft drinks (e.g. Cola 360 ml serving)


30 – 60

Energy drinks (250 ml serving)


50 – 160

Cocoa beverage (240 ml)


3 – 32

Chocolate milk beverage (250 ml serving)


2 – 7

Solid Milk chocolate (30 ml serving)


1 – 15

Solid Dark chocolate, semi-sweet (30 ml serving)


5 – 35

Bakerʼs chocolate (30 ml serving)



Chocolate flavored syrup (30 ml serving)



A coffee expert James Hoffman in his own testing found out that specialty coffee served in coffee houses contained approximately 110-135mg caffeine (doppio, which is also a base for lattes and cappuccinos), while coffee served at chains contained anywhere between 85-175mg of caffeine!

Cofee as a preworkout

What if you train early in the morning and use coffee as a preworkout?

From my personal experience as a coffee drinker, I can tell you that when I have coffee regularly, I develop tolerance to it pretty fast. At that point it does not provide me with energy anymore but rather tires me. Nowadays, I keep my coffee intake to 2-3 shots of espresso /day.
When I have coffee, I can feel it! (I keep sensitivity). As the previously mentioned studies suggest, every person has different tolerance to caffeine. From my point of view, there is no downside to limiting it’s dose or to remove caffeine completely.
Here are more issues with coffee as a pre-workout worth mentioning!
Coffee is used for:
  • energy boost
  • prolongs endurance by reduction of fatigue
  • has a slight effect on lipid mobilization
  • If you use it often,you will get used to it and your race-day performance will suffer if you don’t take it before a race.
  • If you take it,you will be on your base level while your competition can reap benefits and take advantage of the boost they get
  • Not being able to stimulate yourself to perform without coffee.
How you can prime yourself to perform:
  • Carbohydrates
  • Music
  • Mental work (do not rely on external stimulus)
  • Movement
Carbohydrates vs coffee
  • Both provide stimulation of sympathetic nervous system
  • Both delay fatigue
  • Carbs mouth wash has a positive effect on performance
  • In both cases you are relying on external sources of stimulation
  • Coffee has no calories (Whether it is good or bad is contextual.)
To conclude, my general recommendations are:
  • Drink coffee for stimulation strategically
  • Drink high-quality decaffeinated coffee for taste
  • Avoid coffee early in the morning
  • Avoid drinking coffee around your meals if you have problems with iron absorption

References (2019). Coffee Statistics. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jul. 2019].

Harpaz, E., Tamir, S., Weinstein, A. and Weinstein, Y. (2019). The effect of caffeine on energy balance. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jul. 2019].

Killer, S., Blannin, A. and Jeukendrup, A. (2014). No Evidence of Dehydration with Moderate Daily Coffee Intake: A Counterbalanced Cross-Over Study in a Free-Living Population. PLoS ONE, [online] 9(1), p.e84154. Available at:

Nieber, K. (2017). The Impact of Coffee on Health. Planta Medica, [online] 83(16), pp.1256-1263. Available at: [Accessed 28 Jul. 2019]. (2019). Cortisol | You and Your Hormones from the Society for Endocrinology. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jul. 2019].

ZRT Laboratory. (2019). Diurnal Cortisol Curves – ZRT Laboratory. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jul. 2019].