While surfing the next, I found something interesting about coffee:
One look at a line at the local Starbucks in the morning and you don’t need to be convinced of the huge amount of coffee consumption in the U.S. The National Coffee Association found in 2000 that 54% of the U.S. adult population drinks coffee daily. Guess there’s nothing like the first double espresso in the morning to clear the cobwebs from our heads so we can face the day.
But what are the effects relating to fitness? If that grande-no-foam-double-whipped-extra-shot-no-fat latte gives us the get-up-and-go to start our day at work, will it do the same if we’re headed to the gym?
The main ingredient in coffee that gives us that jolt is caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant. Caffeine is found naturally in coffee beans, tea leaves, and chocolate, and is a popular added ingredient in carbonated beverages and some over-the-counter medications such as cold remedies, diuretics, aspirin, and weight control aids. It is estimated that in the U.S., 75% of caffeine intake comes from coffee.
Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system by blocking adenosine, a neurotransmitter that normally causes a calming effect in the body. The resulting neural stimulation due to this blockage causes the adrenal glands to release adrenaline, the "fight or flight" hormone. Your heart rate increases, your pupils dilate, your muscles tighten up, and glucose is released into your blood stream for extra energy. Voila… you now have the caffeine buzz.
But wait…we’re not done yet. Caffeine also increases dopamine. Dopamine activates the pleasure in parts of the brain. It has been suspected that this also contributes to caffeine addiction.
Physiologically, caffeine makes us you feel alert, pumps adrenaline to give you energy and changes dopamine production to make you feel good. Another espresso, anyone?
Ergogenic Effects of Caffeine to Performance
In addition to various psychological and physiological benefits, numerous studies have documented caffeine’s ergogenic effect on athletic performance, particularly in regard to endurance. Studies show that caffeine ingestion prior to exercising extended endurance in moderately strenuous aerobic activity. Other studies researching caffeine consumption on elite distance runners and distance swimmers show increased performance times following caffeine consumption.
Despite effects on endurance, caffeine produced no effect on maximal muscular force in a study measuring voluntary and electrically stimulated muscle actions. However, the same study did show findings that suggest caffeine has an ergogenic effect on muscle during repetitive, low frequency stimulation.
Caffeine’s positive performance-enhancing effects have been well documented. So much so that the International Olympic Committee placed a ban leading to disqualification for an athlete with urinary limits exceeding 12 mg/mL. Roughly 600 to 800mg of caffeine, or 4 to 7 cups of coffee, consumed over a 30-minute period would be enough to exceed this level and cause disqualification. The National Collegiate Athletic Association has a similar limit, set at 15 mg/mL.
Coffee: A Pre-Workout Drink?
Before you make Starbucks part of your pre-workout warm-up in order to harness the effects of caffeine, be aware that simply downing a grande may not give you similar benefits found in these studies. A recent Canadian study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology compared the effect of coffee and caffeine on run time to exhaustion. A group of nine men took part in five trials. Sixty minutes before each run, the men took one of the following:
De-caffeinated coffee with caffeine added
Performance times were up to 10 times longer in subjects using the caffeine capsules, with no differences in times among the other trials. Since the level of caffeine absorption was similar during the caffeine trials, researchers concluded something in the coffee itself that interferes with caffeine’s performance-enhancing effects. This makes sense considering that there are literally hundreds of compounds dissolved when coffee beans are roasted, ground and extracted. Results of this research suggest that if benefits of caffeine on endurance times are desired, caffeine capsules work better than coffee.
Caffeine and Creatine Supplementation
Although caffeine has been shown to increase endurance time, further research shows it may actually blunt the effect of creatine, a popular and well-researched compound known for its consistent ergogenic effects. In a study evaluating the effect of pre-exercise caffeine ingestion on both creatine stores and high-intensity exercise performance, caffeine totally counteracted any effects of creatine supplementation. It was suggested that individuals who creatine load should refrain from caffeine-containing foods and beverages if positive effects are desired.
The Downside of Caffeine
Despite coffee/caffeine’s positive effects on psychological states and performance, there are numerous documented risks that must considered when consuming caffeine, whether for performance-enhancing effects or simply as a part of daily dietary consumption.
Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and can produce restlessness, headaches, and irritability. Caffeine also elevates your heart rate and blood pressure. Over the long-term as your body gets used to caffeine, it requires higher amounts to get the same effects. Certainly, having your body in a state of hormonal emergency all day long isn’t very healthy.
Caffeine is also a diuretic and causes a loss of fluid, which then leads to a dehydrating effect. This is obviously not conducive to fitness activities such as resistance training, as fluid is needed for the transfer of nutrients to facilitate muscular growth. It is also important when considering the further loss of fluid while exercising in hot environments.
Perhaps the most important long-term problem is the effect of caffeine on sleep. The half-life of caffeine in the body is about 6 hours. If you drink a big cup of coffee with 200 mg of caffeine at 4PM, at 10PM you still have about 100mg in your body. By 4AM, you still have 50mg floating in your system. Even though you may be able to sleep, you may not be able to obtain the restful benefits of deep sleep. What’s worse, the cycle continues as you may use more and more caffeine in hopes of counteracting this deficit.
Though caffeine has some benefits in relation to exercise performance, risks have been documented. Most problems seem evident with very high consumption. The American Heart Association says that moderate coffee drinking (one or two cups per day) does not seem to be harmful for most people. As with everything else, moderation is the key to healthy caffeine consumption. Further research is needed to clearly determine whether the performance-enhancing benefits of caffeine outweigh the potential risks.
Also I don't quite know what these are all about but perhaps may be a clue to all things I now know to be interesting.
Ah, more on coffee:
Do you remember your first experience with coffee? I'm sorry to say that I do. All I remember is that it was powdered and freeze dried and worst of all, decaf. I remember sitting in a restaurant with my mother and stepfather asking a waitress for Sanka, and explaining to my mother that I'd had it before and avoiding her disapproving stare. What was wrong with a ten year old drinking coffee? It was Sanka for God's sake!
My remaining experiences between ten and thirty five were noncommittal and mediocre to say the least. Mixing Tasters Choice in tepid tap water, graduating to Maxwell House and a Mr. Coffee; suffice it to say that there was no passion in my coffee. If I asked a girl out for a cup of coffee, it usually meant a Styrofoam cup at a Dunkin' Donuts or a Winchell's somewhere.
Then I stepped into my first Specialty Coffee Shop. Now that I remember well. It was a combination bookstore and coffee shop called the Upstart Crow in San Diego, California. The most important thing to me was the feeling I got when I walked in there. Complete comfort. There, I was able to sit in one of their comfortable armchairs, sit back, cross my legs and enjoy a cup of joe while reading a good book. Back then I was into science fiction and I remember vividly reading 'Ender's Game' by Orson Scott Card while sipping some of the most wonderful coffee from a paper cup.
Oh that coffee! Rich and smooth, I fell into it's flavor; jumped actually. I spent many a day off sitting in that shop in Seaport Village... then I left San Diego for Atlanta and it was back to Maxwell House and Sanka. sigh...
Then, simply because I was unemployed and late with the rent I walked into a local Starbucks and asked for an application. I was hired and that's where my obsession with coffee renewed itself. I was sent to their training center for intensive classes teaching not only how to promote the product, but how to differentiate the taste between two coffees and most importantly, how to brew and serve the perfect cup. This, my faithful reader is what I am going to teach you now. Get ready to learn how to brew the perfect cup of coffee!
The Fundamentals of Coffee
All coffee, no matter whether you get it from your local coffee shop or the supermarket has four basic fundamentals:
Let's look at each of these one by one...
The ratio between coffee and water is an important one. Anyone who's ever had coffee that's too weak or too strong knows what I'm talking about. When it comes to brewing the perfect cup of coffee, the proportion should be two tablespoons of ground coffee to every six ounces of water. No more no less. A lot of people try to stretch their coffee for two weeks or more without realizing what a sacrifice to the taste this is. Use too little coffee and it tastes weak. Use too much and it becomes bitter and you risk a terrible nights sleep.
The best way to measure two tablespoons is with a measuring scoop. There are scoops that are specifically measured for two tablespoons but if you don't have one made especially for coffee measuring then you can use a standard 18 cup measuring cup. If you don't have that you can use regular run of the mill tablespoons, but that method isn't as precise. If you want to purchase a coffee scoop, you can get one at a specialty coffee shop or online. Starbucks is a good place to get one.
The type of grind you use for your coffee depends upon what kind of coffee maker you brew your coffee in. If you use an espresso machine you use a fine grind. For automatic drip coffee makers (such as Mr. Coffee), you use a medium grind and you use a coarse grind for coffee presses (my preferred way of brewing). There are other grinds as well, just as there are other ways to brew coffee such as percolators and Turkish coffees.
If were going to talk about the way a coffee is ground, then we also have to talk about grinders. Basically there are two types of grinders: blade and burr Blade grinders have two blades that rotate at a high speed to grind your beans. The pros of this method is that blade grinders are affordable. The cons are that they generally break down quicker.
Burr grinders grind the beans between two textured plates and the grind is much more consistent than a blade grinder. Also, it's easier to adjust the grind with a burr grinder. To get an espresso grind with a blade grinder, you have to hold the grind button for x amount of seconds. A burr grinder allows you to turn a dial and voila! Your grind is done. Obviously, I prefer a burr grinder.
It's pretty much a good idea to use fresh, clean water to brew your coffee. If at all possible, try not to use tap water; you should always use filtered or bottled water. Before you begin screaming at me that you don't have that kind of money, don't worry. Yes, using nothing but bottled water is not exactly cost effective but there are inexpensive water filters available to purchase. Water filtration pitchers are also a good way to get fresh water for brewing.
Your water should be heated to just below boiling, around 190 degrees. You don't want your water to be too hot. It could overheat the grounds and spoil the taste of your coffee.
This is pretty obvious. Once a bag is opened, the freshness lasts about a week. After grinding, it lasts about two days. The best way to keep your beans and ground coffee fresher longer is to keep it in an airtight container like the one shown here. And never, ever freeze your coffee no matter what you've heard or read. Coffee that is frozen is a high risk for freezer burn and take it from one who has experienced the horror: freezer burnt coffee is not a great taste!
Well those are the basics. I hope you enjoyed reading this article and Happy Brewing!