Coffee

Today, let’s look at the potential benefits and drawbacks of one of my favorite things – coffee.

For the sake of discussion, I’m going to include espresso (or the “Nectar of the God’s” as I like to think of it) in the same category as coffee.

First, the benefits:

     It tastes amazing!

      It is loaded with antioxidants that may prevent free radicals from damaging cells.

      Two organic acids found in coffee, caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid, may have a slightly anti-diabetic effect. It appears that these compounds help increase lipolysis, allowing the body to use fatty acids from body fat stores, as opposed to glucose and sugar, as energy.

     It may improve endothelial function and raise HDL, promoting a healthier cardiovascular system.

     There may be a limited value to acute caffeine consumption for reducing feelings of depression.

     Finally, it gives a boost that can help increase work productivity, either during exercise or mental tasks.

The downsides:

     Some of the organic acids within coffee can raise cortisol levels for up to 12 hours after consumption! This can interfere with sleep and exacerbate anxiety issues.

     Coffee is extremely acidic meaning it can cause acid reflux and leach calcium from bones.

     It is high in polyphenols that inhibit proper absorption of iron, leading to anemia.

     Finally, caffeine is a stimulant, a classification for a drug with a “speedy” affect. The fact that it is a drug, with noticeable affects mentally and physically, means there is addiction and withdrawal potential. Also, it can mask other issues due to the artificial energy and buzz it provides.

Now that we’ve looked at the hard facts behind coffee, how exactly should we treat consumption of a substance with such a balanced list of pros and cons?

I would never dare tell you what to do, particularly when it comes to something as beloved as coffee, but I can offer my approach:

I treat coffee as a tasty indulgence and a performance enhancer. By that, I mean, on days I work out, I have a large cup of very dark coffee. This helps me push a little harder in the gym and also leaves me more alert for the rest of my workday. On the days I don’t work out, I make a couple shots of espresso in my stove-top Moka machine.

Then, on Saturdays and holidays, I’ll indulge and have a few extra shots throughout the day.

I have removed coffee from my diet before and noticed a marked improvement in my stress levels throughout the day. For this reason, whenever I take a recovery week from the gym, I have tea instead of coffee or espresso.

I am a rather high-stress individual…my mind is always going a mile a second and I always have a dozen different things on my mind. This, in part, is why I try to be rather conservative with my coffee intake.

For the general public, I’d suggest finishing your coffee in the morning and avoiding it after 12PM.

One thing I’ve done to curtail my desire for coffee is expand my tea palate. As much as I love coffee, there is also a sense of excitement when opening my kitchen cabinet and deciding which, of about a dozen teas, I am in the mood for.

I have a training session in a few moments and would love nothing more than a shot of espresso…but, I’ll brew a mug of Lemon Ginger Yogi tea and, after the first few sips, I’ll be perfectly content.

Maybe give it a try and see how you feel. Let me know!

 

Optimizing Sleep

In my post regarding recovery I mentioned the importance of sleep. With our busy lives, it’s easy to forgo the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night. I’m sure many of you will agree that, after enough nights of only 4 to 6 hours of sleep, and enough caffeine, it’s not difficult to survive. But, even if you feel like you can perform just as well, there is no substitute for a full 8 hours of sleep on a regular basis.

Some of the benefits of adequate sleep include: recovery from exercise or injury; release of human growth hormone; improved immune system; healthy brain development; and improved memory function.

Below are some recommendations I find extremely helpful when trying to optimize my sleep quantity and quality.

*              *              *              *              *

Room Darkening Shades – In my bedroom I have typical pull-down shades that are sufficient at blocking out stray car headlights. However, I also have fabric curtains that I draw over the shades to provide an even darker environment. This way, when the sun starts to rise in the early hours of the morning, I don’t wake up too early.

As night falls and the sky darkens, the body naturally starts producing melatonin, a hormone that maintains healthy circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycles) and also acts as an antioxidant. This brings us to the next tactic…

Eliminate Blue Light – Just as darkness will promote the release of melatonin, bright lights, particularly blue/white lights (such as the sun, fluorescent bulbs, or electronic screens), blocks its release in the brain.

The best thing to do is turn off all electronic devices an hour or two before bed. However, I know how difficult it is to get home at 7 or 8 at night and avoid relaxing in front of the television or responding to last minute e-mails. For this reason, I would recommend downloading “f.lux” for computers. This is a program that will adjust the color of the screen according to the time of day. It is free and runs as a benign background program.

Besides this download, I also use candles in my house at night. Not only will this help prepare my mind and body for sleep, it saves on electricity and creates a very comfortable environment.

Wind Down Ritual – This is one tactic that will require some experimentation. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that humans are “creatures of habit”. Just as regular release of melatonin will develop proper wake-sleep cycles, so will other habits or rituals.

Starting at around 8 PM every night, I roll on a foam roller to massage my muscles from the day. I usually listen to a fitness and nutrition podcast during this time as a substitute for watching television. Finally, I take a quick shower and occasionally have a cup of herbal tea (chamomile and mint blends are my favorite) with a teaspoon of magnesium.

By the time 9 or 10 rolls around, there is nothing I want to do more than lay down on my comfy mattress and crawl under my cool sheets.

Reduce Coffee Intake – Key word being “reduce”…I’d never be as bold as to suggest entirely eliminating coffee! I personally start every day with a cup of the darkest roast coffee I can find or a couple shots of espresso.

In terms of sleep, studies show that one cup of coffee consumed at noontime results in heightened cortisol at 10 PM. High levels of cortisol can have negative effects on the brain and body. An important note is that this study was conducted with decaffeinated coffee! This would suggest that it is not the caffeine content of the coffee that raises cortisol. Due to this fact, I’d recommend finishing your coffee with breakfast and switching to tea for the rest of the day (many teas contain compounds that actually lower stress).

White Noise – Finally, you can buy an inexpensive white noise machine or run a fan while you’re sleeping. This ambient noise will help block out disturbing sounds that may prevent you from falling asleep.  Just don’t forget to blackout any lights that these electronics may give off!

*              *              *              *              *

There are plenty more things you could try, including meditation or melatonin supplementation, but these are the specific tactics I found most useful when developing healthy sleeping patterns. If you want any more methods tailored to your lifestyle, don’t hesitate to contact me directly!