As corporate athletes many of us are warming up our days with a morning coffee. However is our reliance on the piccolo flat macchiato latte doing us more harm then good? 

Is Coffee Good for Brain Function?

Many people drink coffee as they feel it works as an accelerator on their brains ability to perform. However it is more like putting a block of wood under the brake. As we go through our day our brains build up a chemical called adenosine. The brain has receptors to detect how much adenosine is present and as it builds we are triggered to sleep. What coffee does is block these receptors to allow your brain to feel alert.  

Coffee is packed with antioxidants and has been shown to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia by 60%. A recent study in South Korea showed similar results for coffee consumption and a decreased risk of heart disease and diabetes. Coffee has been shown to increase brain function for tasks that are repetitive in nature but have little impact on those tasks that require cognitive flexibility. 

The most effective dose is 200-300mg per day (around 2-3 cups), anymore and you increase your risk of headaches, insomnia, heart palpitations and anxiety.  Caffeine will stay in your body for up to 6 hours. This is why it is not recommended late in the day as it can cause significant disruption to your sleep and poor quality sleep is one of our greatest cognitive impairments.  

Have You Tried a Coffee Nap? 

A Japanese study looked at what was the best solution in overcoming that late afternoon lull. The subjects were engaged with computer tasks for 15 minutes before each intervention and were monitored for 60 minutes after. The subjects were divided into 5 groups 

  • Group A – 15 minute Nap 
  • Group B – Coffee and 15 minute Nap 
  • Group C – Bright Light Exposure and 15 minute Nap 
  • Group D – Face Wash and 15 minute Nap 
  • Group E – No Nap 

They found the Coffee + 15 min Nap was most effective treatment. It takes around 20 minutes for caffeine to reach our brains so this strategy tends to make a lot of sense when it comes to overcoming fatigue, as naps that last for longer than 20 minutes start to move you into deep sleep brain waves and can leave you with sleep inertia, groggy feeling. 

Is Coffee Good for Athletic Performance? 

The benefits of caffeine and athletic performance has been well publicised with most studies showing a 3-12% improvement in trained athletes, particularly in endurance capacity. The 1999 Rugby World Cup winning Wallabies credited some of their success to caffeine supplementation. However caution must be executed when taking caffeine, as it was previously on the banned substance list. Larger doses of caffeine (6-8 cups) have actually shown a slight decline in physical and mental performance.  

Everyone is different and you need to find that sweet spot for what works for you physically and mentally. Your daily cuppa tends to show some great health and performance benefits but remember moderation is key; a triple ristretto still counts as 3 coffees!