Caffeine. Have you heard of it? Many of us consume this precious resource daily, often via coffee or tea, and increasingly via energy drinks and supplements.
However you get caffeine into your system, the effect is the same: this central nervous system stimulant is best known for increasing alertness. That alone is reason enough for most to consume the drug, which is found naturally in various seeds, nuts, and leaves—especially when you consider the fact that for most populations there are virtually no side effects, particularly with regular use.
However, there remains a whole host of other potential benefits many people don’t realize caffeine may provide them. Below are a handful.
Improve Athletic Performance
Sluggish at the gym? Boosting workouts via caffeine is “a truth almost universally acknowledged in exercise science,” writes Gretchen Reynolds, a physical education writer for The New York Times.
And, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, this boost can be experienced even among those who already consume caffeine on the regular. The study showed an improvement in speed among racers of more than 3% versus those who did not consume caffeine before training.
In addition to the benefit of alertness, this powerful drug makes it easier for muscles to burn body fat. Moreover, it’s safe even for competitors to use because it is not banned in sports.
“No matter the habitual caffeine intake in the diet, acute caffeine supplementation can improve performance,” Dr. Bruno Gualano, a nutrition and physiology professor at Brazil’s University of São Paulo in Brazil, informed Reynolds.
Caffeine taken to improve athletic performance should be consumed within one hour of training, data suggests.
Protect Against Cancer
You chug coffee on your way to work just to feel awake on a Monday morning. I can’t blame you. Conveniently, you may also be protecting yourself against cancer.
In the early 90’s, it was believed that caffeine may be carcinogenic. However, that myth has not only been dispelled, but the opposite may in fact be true. (Another dispelled myth: fat is bad.)
An international group of 23 scientists, convened by the World Health Organization, evaluated the carcinogenicity of drinking coffee. Their conclusion: “After thoroughly reviewing more than 1,000 studies in humans and animals, the group found that there was inadequate evidence for the carcinogenicity of coffee drinking.” On top of that, “reduced risks were seen for cancers of the liver and uterine endometrium.”
Fend off Alzheimer’s Disease
Another study, published in the European Journal of Neurology, concluded that “caffeine intake is associated with a significantly lower risk for AD, independently of other possible confounding variables.”
Reduce Mortality Rate
Want to live longer? Your mug of the good stuff may help you do just that.
A study observing the association between consumption of caffeinated coffee and risk of mortality followed 200,000 nurses and doctors over three decades. Through periodic physical examinations and questionnaires, the study—published in Circulation—found that those who drank one cup per day had a 6% reduced risk of death. Three cups showed an 8% reduced risk of death, while five cups showed 15% (more than five cups did not show further benefit).
Coffee consumption was linked to a reduced risk of death from various killers, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even suicide, according to the research.
My Take on Caffeine
I consume caffeine almost every day—often via coffee (cold brew is my favourite), sometimes via sugar-free energy drinks. I don’t expect this habit to shield me from cancer, stave off diseases, and extend my life. Which is fine, because I’d do it anyway. I observe zero side effects of regular caffeine consumption but reap noticeable benefits, including while training.
Caffeine is not a miracle drug. But it is safe and it is natural. With little to no downside, and a lot of potential upside, what’s not to like?
Besides, coffee is delicious.