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Friday, June 13, 2014

Can Java Become a Healthy Habit? It All Depends…

The latest on that cup 'o Joe
I hazily stumbled past semi-inebriated poker players and chain-smoking zombie-esque 50-somethings sliding dollars into slot machines. I wasn’t judging: I had a fix of my own to fulfill, and God help anyone who dare get in my way.

The night before, after checking in, I’d received devastating news: Our Vegas hotel room didn’t have an in-room coffee machine. The horror!

That meant at 6:45 the following morning, groggy and without make-up, I sheepishly had to wander through the gambling area to a second-floor coffee kiosk, where I impatiently stood in a 15-minute line to get my $4.50 caffeine fix.

Hello, my name is Jini, and I’m a confirmed coffee addict. I’ve become accustomed to a big cup of organic dark roast every morning, and no study or expert need tell me otherwise. Especially before a full day in Vegas, I needed my java fix.

As far as vices go, mine’s
pretty innocuous. I don’t drink alcohol, I’m a personal trainer so (duh!) I don’t smoke, and I’ve never dabbled in drugs. Coffee’s my thing.
Bring it up within the fitness and nutrition community and you’ll likely get heated debate. If you drink coffee, you’ll find studies to confirm your fix. If you don’t – well, plenty of studies support your opposition.

Bias firmly acknowledged, I became determined to figure out whether my morning (and, um, pre-workout) coffee was really such a bad habit.

Conclusive Data about Coffee? Not Even Remotely
One study found up to 90% of North American and European adults drink coffee daily. What impact does this create for our long-term health?

Pick a health issue. Go ahead, name one: Diabetes, cardiovascular issues, obesity… Most likely, studies are all over the map here concerning coffee.

Take insulin resistance, which paves the road for type 2 diabetes. One recent study among Japanese adults found that drinking coffee could increase insulin resistance. That contradicts an earlier study that shows coffee and caffeine could improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance in mice fed a high-fat diet. 

Confused, I looked at coffee meta-analyses, which proved more helpful. One of the most balanced reviews I found weighed the pros and cons about coffee consumption. Based on research investigations, epidemiological studies, and meta-analyses regarding coffee consumption, researchers found coffee could benefit:

• Diabetes mellitus
• Various cancers
• Parkinsonism
• Alzheimer's disease
• Oxidative stress
• Cognitive functionality
• Modulating detoxifying enzymes

Researchers also found potential drawbacks to drinking coffee, which included:

• Raising serum cholesterol
• Coronary health problems
• Myocardial and cerebral infarction
• Insomnia
• Cardiovascular complications
• Withdrawal (since caffeine affects adenosine receptors), which can create muscle fatigue and allied problems in those addicted to coffee
• In pregnant women or those with postmenopausal problems, excessively drinking coffee can interfere with oral contraceptives or postmenopausal hormones

Ultimately, this review oversimplifies coffee’s potential benefits and drawbacks. You have the power to determine whether coffee becomes healthy or unhealthy. Here’s why.

Coffee is a Dose-Dependent Stimulant
What I mean is, a cup or two can give you certain benefits, whereas drinking a pot of hazelnut vanilla can potentially create problems.

We all agree too much coffee negates its benefits and makes you a wired mess, right? Beyond that, these five factors can make the difference between healthy brew and cranked-up cortisol bomb.

1.    Quality. Coffee is one of the most pesticide-ridden crops. Opting for organic can eliminate your exposure to toxins. Buying fresh beans, refrigerating them, grinding them, and using bleach-free paper filters or a French press also yields higher-quality, better-tasting coffee.
2.   How well you metabolize caffeine. Especially if you’re a slow caffeine metabolizer, more than one cup of coffee can keep you tossing at night. Not only that: Coffee ramps up levels of your stress hormone cortisol, potentially shutting down fat burning and keeping you on edge far after you need to chill.
3.   What you add to your coffee. More on that in a minute, but dumping powdered creamer (hello, trans fat) and sugar packets into coffee creates an entirely different monster than adding a little coconut cream and stevia.
4.   What you eat with coffee. Grabbing a low-fat muffin or sugary pastry at your local coffee shop spikes and crashes your blood sugar, leaving you cranky and craving sugar mid-morning. A well-designed protein shake creates an entirely different effect.
5.   Other factors. Studies sometimes overlook other variables that could affect outcome. Did coffee drinkers also smoke cigarettes more often? Did they sleep less and use caffeine as a crutch? Obviously, these and many other factors can dramatically alter a study’s outcome.

Caffeine as an Ergogenic Aid
I’ve done it and so have you. You’re dragging before a particularly strenuous workout and need something to literally get moving. A large dark roast does just the job, and you kick ass during your workout.

A large amount of research substantiates caffeine as an effective ergogenic aid. One very recent study concluded that both coffee and caffeine consumed one hour before exercise could improve endurance exercise performance. Another study that looked at various reputed ergogenic aids – including alcohol, nicotine, and even cannabis – concluded “only caffeine has enough strength of evidence to be considered an ergogenic aid.” 

My colleagues agree: Used intelligently, coffee can help you perform better. “The majority of studies show caffeine as a valuable aid in improving both endurance and sprint performance,” writes my friend Dr. Jade Teta. “It also may have benefit in recovery from exercise and even play a role in speeding weight loss.” 

While most research looks at coffee, caffeine tablets can also provide a pre-workout boost. I’ve used caffeine tablets when I wanted to taper off coffee, and they didn’t have the same effect. Seems there’s something in coffee – perhaps caffeine working synergistically with other compounds – that provides that invigorating jolt.

If coffee breath at the gym isn’t your thing, you might want to see if they benefit you. Just be aware how much caffeine each contains. You most certainly don’t want to overdo caffeine tablets.

The one time you want to avoid coffee and other caffeinated drinks is after a workout. “[B]e sure to avoid drinking coffee, energy drinks, or anything with caffeine immediately post-workout because this can inhibit recovery,” write the Poliquin Group™ Editorial Staff. “Research suggests caffeine elevates cortisol, the stress hormone, that you want to help clear as quickly as possible.” 

What Should I Add to Coffee?
If you’re like me, even bloodthirsty vampires couldn’t ply a good cup of coffee from your cold, dead hands. We’ve agreed: Most research supports coffee’s benefits in moderation. You’ll enjoy a cup (okay, maybe two) in the morning, and another before your workout, but you’re not going to abuse coffee.

Now becomes the polarizing follow-up question: What should you add to your dark roast?

If you’re a purist and drink coffee black, you can skip this section. Consider this, though: Several experts argue adding a little heavy organic cream can help buffer coffee’s cortisol spike. Plus it makes coffee taste so much better.

Yes: Heavy cream, not half-and-half or skim milk. Easy does it here. If you’re dairy sensitive, no-sugar-added coconut cream makes another smart option.

Steer far, far away from powdered creamers, hazelnut or whatever flavored-liquid additives (most often nothing more than sugar water), and any container that contains a long list of unpronounceable ingredients. Heavy organic cream or coconut cream make your best creamer options.

As for sweeteners, I’m not a fan of added sugar, and artificial sweeteners get an emphatic no in my book. Fortunately, many markets now carry a large array of stevia, monk fruit, and other natural alternative sweeteners that provide coffee sweetness without the subsequent sugar crash. My friend JJ Virgin wrote a comprehensive guide about your best sweetener options.

Coffee Alternatives
Some folks become ultra-sensitive to coffee. Finding a lower-acidity bean provides one option, but even then I’ve had the occasional client who loves coffee but just can’t tolerate it.

A variety of coffee alternatives flood the market. Chicory root, long regarded as a medicinal herb, makes a
caffeine-free coffee substitute. Among chicory root’s benefits include improved digestion as well as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. 

Yerba mate, a tea popular in South America, can provide coffee’s caffeine boost without its jittery aftermath. If I’m detoxifying or otherwise staying away from coffee (rare, but I occasionally do), I’ll opt for organic yerba mate. Heads up: It has a grassy, acquired taste.

Other teas can provide a similar boost, but overall contain less caffeine than coffee. If you need an afternoon second wind, opt for green tea, which still provides some caffeine. Whatever caffeinated option you choose, steer clear from energy drinks. Read 
this blog to see why I want you to stay far, far away from these caffeinated monstrosities. 

What’s Your Morning Booster?

Are you, like me, a bona fide morning coffee drinker or do you opt for something else to get going? Share your favorite caffeinated beverage below or on my Facebook fan page Can Java Become a Healthy Habit? It All Depends… _______________________________________________________________________________
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Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level?  Find out now!  Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at © 2011 Jinifit, Inc.

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