Let’s get one thing straight. Unless you have a particular intolerance or allergy, coffee is not bad for you. In fact, in recent years coffee has been linked to a decrease in various cancers an increase in longevity, and even weight loss. From a performance standpoint, coffee increases alertness, brain activation and decreases the rate of perceived exertion (that is, things seem easier when we have caffeine on board).
Like most things, coffee can also have detrimental effects – and sometimes it’s the habits associated with coffee that bring you down.
So here are the coffee rules. If you want your daily fix to boost your performance, not make you sick, then follow these.
1) Five is too many
The ‘safe’ amount of caffeine you should consume in one day is generally accepted to be about 300mg. For argument’s sake, the average espresso has about 100mg (see this article). Two coffees are fine. Three should be fine. If they are only weak (different cafes can be as low as 50mg) then four would just scrape in. But five is definitely too many. This will create ‘caffeine rebound’ and physical dependency
2) Water + Coffee = Clever
Coffee will dehydrate you. Whenever you have a coffee, try to drink at least the same volume of water. This will keep you hydrated and this is a pre-requisite for cells that need to perform (including brain cells)
3) Ditch the sugar
The caffeine is doing the work. Coffee can actually be a great pick me up, especially around that 2-3pm slump. You don’t need a sugar kick as well. It only adds calories and while the coffee is good for you, the processed sugar generally is not. You can end up with a ‘sugar high’ which is inevitably followed by a ‘sugar low’, and by spiking your blood sugar levels like this regularly, you can damage the energy producing structures in your cells, leaving you with less energy in the long term
4) Pull back on milk
Go for skim milk if you can – this will decrease the fat intake and also calories in your day. If you really must, a full-cream coffee once a day isn’t going to kill you. If you drink a really milky coffee, like a latte, then try to roll back to a flat white, which has less milk. If you are trying to lose weight, then ditch the milk altogether – maybe a short macchiato or a long black (again, one milky coffee a day won’t kill you)
5) There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ muffin
Often what makes coffee so bad for you is the treat that you have with it. Ditch the muffin (usually heaped full of sugar and butter) in favour of a healthier snack. Maybe fruit or some avocado on toast. If you must have something kind of sweet, try some fruit toast with just a hint of margarine.
6) What’s your cut-off time?
If you have trouble getting to sleep at night, then you might need to re-think that last coffee of the day. Now, some people can have a cup of Java an hour before bed and be fine. Others will feel the effects of that 4pm cup when it’s time to hit the pillow. Know your cut-off time, and if you really need something, go for peppermint tea as a natural pick-me-up, without the caffeine.
Coffee can be a great booster, social excuse and/or sometimes an excuse to get out of the office for ten minutes. If you follow these rules, then coffee will remain your friend. And not become your enemy.