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Java for the Win!
A Q&A with the ISSN's Dr. Doug Kalman regarding all things coffee and sport.
There are a couple of things I’m not willing to live without. One of those things is exercise. The other one is coffee.
Other vices—burritos, donuts, samurai movies, marathons, 100+ mile gravel rides—may have some detrimental qualities. Coffee? Not so much. In fact, science finds new health benefits of coffee practically every day, thanks largely to how it works as an antioxidant.
As a pre-workout drink, it’s hard to beat. It’s a minimally-processed way to absorb an effective amount of caffeine. It’s hydrating. It tastes awesome. And it helps you poop.
It’s a fascinating, albeit dense read. Here are some high points:
Coffee’s many constituents, including antioxidant polyphenols, make it more beneficial than straight caffeine.
Coffee is well-established as an effective ergogenic pre-workout.
Coffee is looking more and more like a promising recovery tool as well.
Of course, some people have caffeine issues, but beyond that, the negative effects of coffee are dubious. “Trillions and trillions and trillions and trillions of servings of coffee throughout the history of humankind have not shown coffee to be disease-promoting,” points out position stand co-author Doug Kalman, PhD RD. “Frappuccinos are a different thing, but if you're just having a regular cup of coffee, studies show that people who average three to five cups of coffee per day lower their risks of type two diabetes and have healthier blood sugar control.”
Dr. Kalman set aside some time to speak with New Personal Best about the position stand, as well as additional intel on how that morning brew may help you up your game.
Beyond caffeine, what components of coffee make it stand out for athletes?
One of the things that becomes important when we're talking about coffee is the compounds that naturally occur in coffee. For example, one of the things that I really think is underappreciated or under-known about coffee is that it contains quite a high percentage of polyphenols. Polyphenols, we typically think you get from fruits and vegetables without realizing that coffee's actually made from a fruit.
One of the things that I like about the various polyphenols found in caffeine is that they've also been shown to enhance blood flow and have a positive impact on blood sugar regulation. Specifically, chlorogenic acid, CGA is one of the polyphenols within coffee that has been found to have some metabolic and physiologic activity.
When I think polyphenols for athletes, I go to recovery because of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Polyphenols generally have antioxidant activity and they've been also shown to have a positive impact on vasculature blood flow. Polyphenols in general, whether they're coming from a food, a dietary supplement, or a beverage (which is a food), are good throughout the day. And if we're talking about coffee, coffee is really nature's pre-workout.
I agree that it’s great pre-workout, but there’s one thing I’m confused about. The paper mentioned that coffee is a vasodilator, meaning it opens up blood vessels, but I was under the impression that caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning it constricts blood vessels. What gives?
Coffee and the constituents within coffee do have vasodilation effects. Which means that they help open up blood vessels that are deeper throughout your body so that blood flow can go a little bit deeper, oxygen can be delivered a little bit deeper, and the nutrients that are normally carried in the body could be a little bit deeper into your periphery.
However, while caffeine has vasodilatory effects throughout the body, in the nervous system, in the brain, it has transitory vasoconstrictor effects, so it can actually do a little bit of both. In your blood vessels, vasodilation, but in the brain, near the neurons, it acts as a vasoconstrictor. That’s why it helps with migraines.
So it's a constrictor in the brain...
… and dilation in your periphery.
What's the ideal bean for athletes pre-workout?
When we looked upon this position stand from the ISSN, we only really considered Arabica and Robusta, so either one of those.
Yeah, but Robusta has more caffeine, so I thought maybe…
When it comes to caffeine in general, even if it’s delivered in coffee or delivered in a pill form, the range of approximately 3-6 milligrams per kilogram of body weight has been shown to have the ergogenic effect. (Ed note: That’s roughly 1-3 milligrams per pound of bodyweight.)
So, for example, for a 70-kilogram (154 pound) person, anywhere from 210 milligrams to 420 milligrams would be the range that's known to be ergogenic.
In coffee, a “Grande” (16-ounce) Starbucks is in that range—I think it's 360 milligrams of caffeine. Generally, your cup of premium coffee typically meets the caffeine needs for supporting exercise performance, mental clarity, mental alertness, memory, cognition, increasing pain threshold, and a few other things.
A lot of athletes will get lost in the milligram and kilogram math. Are you saying you don't need to do that? You just need to get your 16-ounce Grande?
Just look for somewhere in between 200 to 400 milligrams or so of caffeine per serving.
And then brewing method? Which one is best?
The brewing method can make a difference in what's liberated and what's not. Studies have found that with the traditional brewing method, we get the antioxidants and other compounds that seem to have a positive cardioprotective effect, as well as also on blood sugar regulation. But when you go to the older methods, like percolated coffee, there seems to be some increase association with cardiovascular events and issues or negative impacts on lipids.
So, for the regular athlete, the typical brewing method that we see today, your Mr. Coffee, Starbucks, or Dunkin' Donuts is fine and would be preferred to the percolated or even the Turkish way of making coffee, where the grounds and the water all boil together and you just drink the mud, essentially.
What about espresso?
Espresso falls under the healthier way of making coffee.
Phew. The paper compares coffee for athletic performance versus taking straight caffeine. I couldn’t really get a bead on it. Can you spell it out for me?
While coffee contains caffeine, these two are not always the same in how they impact and can affect the mind, body and performance. Caffeine that you're getting in pill form is a straight methylxanthine. When you are getting caffeine through coffee, you also get other phytonutrients that can be utilized by your body for aspects of athletic recovery. These aspects would include antioxidant effects, blood flow effects, cognitive effects, and others.
To date, we are unaware of any study that has utilized coffee as part of a recovery platform, although there's no reason to believe that coffee would not be effective or would not be helpful towards athletic recovery.
But no one has ever done a recovery study.
No one's looked at coffee in athletic recovery. But listen, I'm gonna tease you for a second. Research does show that if I give you carbohydrates with caffeine and your glycogen is depleted, if you have low stores of sugar in your muscles and liver, that your body will actually hyper-compensate when you're getting the carbs with caffeine versus carbs alone. It's never been tested, but it is thought it would be.
Caffeine, and therefore coffee, might aid glycogen restoration. Cool! By the way, for cyclists, coffee is the recovery drink of choice, so if you're ever looking for a test group who drink coffee for recovery, I can set you up.
Right. I live in Weston, Florida. There are hundreds and hundreds of cyclists. I think they’re called the Weston Flyers. You see groups, especially on weekends, packs of 100, 200. Cyclists in Florida are not hard to get to participate in studies, for sure.
Dammit! I was hoping you might fly me out. One last question. You didn't really cover this in the paper, but a lot of cyclists use coffee in the morning to help them poop. Do you have any thoughts on that?
We did not cover that in the paper. Caffeine alone does not have that same effect, I've never really looked at what is it in coffee that stimulates that kind of response in the body to say, "Let's evacuate the bowels," so I don't really have much more of a comment on it, although it's not just unique to cyclists. Knowing that, within sports nutrition, if you have an event coming up, know how your body is going to respond. If you are normally drinking coffee every day and you have an early morning start time, allow your body enough time to process so that you are not going to your event with the urge to go to the bathroom versus compete.
Make sure you have an event before you do your event.
In addition to his work with the ISSN and myriad other projects, Dr. Kalman is a co-founder of the nutrition science consultancy Substantiation Sciences.
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