By Dr Luke Del Vecchio
Head of Sports Science

Should I have another cup of coffee, a question we often ask ourselves with some guilt? Remember the key ingredient to consider when weighing up the debate on coffee is really “caffeine content” and what effects it has on our body.

Most of the time we are told about the negative health effects of drinking caffeinated beverages such as tea and coffee, but how much of this information should we believe?
The first myth to debunk is that drinking coffee will lead to dehydration, let’s look at some actual research to see how true this misconception is:

  • Caffeine intake does not increase urinary losses or impair hydration and thermoregulatory characteristics when consumed in moderate amounts by habitual consumers (Armstrong, Int J Sports Nutrition Exerc Metab 2002; 189-206)
  • Sudden increase in caffeine intake does not impair indices of hydration status (Armstrong, Int J Sports Nutrition Exerc Metab 2005; 15: 252-265
  • Caffeine containing drinks (tea, coffee, cola drinks) contribute fluid to the everyday diet;  Avoidance of these well-liked beverages may result in a reduced intake of fluid.

The second myth is that caffeine (or drinking coffee) is bad for your health, here is what Dr. Paul Bent (a leading expert in this field) had to say about that question:

“At normal levels of exposure through tea, coffee and other beverages, caffeine has few unwanted side effects” ( “A conversation on caffeine”.  Dr Paul Brent.  2011 Lecture notes)

Now, let’s look at the positive effects that caffeine can provide in moderate doses ( “A conversation on caffeine”. Dr Paul Brent.  2011 Lecture notes)

  • Caffeine excites the CNS at all levels ( increases energy levels)
  • Humans experience a reduction of fatigue and enhanced clear flow of thought
  • Studies have shown caffeine produces a keener appreciation of sensory stimuli  
  • Performance at motor and mental tasks is improved

This proves how effective a cup of coffee can be when you are undertaking any task with a high cognitive demand, such as studying.

More recently, there is emerging evidence that caffeine in moderate doses  can act an antioxidant, which can help prevent some cancers and heart disease, and possibly help with insulin sensitivity reducing the chances of type 2 diabetes!

Weekend warriors and athletes can also use caffeine to help improve performance, Dr. Louise Bourke Australia’s leading authority on sports nutrition states “It seems reasonable for active people to strategically time their habitual (low to moderate) caffeine use to gain benefits for training or competition sessions” .

There is also good scientific evidence to prove that caffeine can reduce fatigue levels during exercise enabling longer, harder workouts!

So how much is too much? Be aware that the effects of caffeine on the body vary greatly between individuals. A reasonable guideline is to consume less than 600 mg per day – around four cups of strong drip-percolated coffee, or five or six cups of tea.  Pregnant women should minimize their intake of caffeinated beverages though.

Luke Delvecchio

  • Accredited Sport Scientist
  • Accredited Exercise Physiologist
  • MSc. (Exercise Science)
  • Post Grad. Dip (Exercise Rehabilitation)
  • Post Grad. Cert (Diabetes Education & Management)
  • BSc. (Exercise Science & Nutrition)
  • Associate Nutritionist
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