April 27, 2010 posted by

The Dark Side Of Coffee

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I love coffee and hardly shy away from touting its benefits. Today, however, I’m facing its dark side. Bushisms aside, there’s very little of the “with us or against us” mentality when it comes to most things in life. Conviction is only noble if it’s motivated by thought. Just because coffee increases both physical and mental performance and seems to stave of major illness and help you live longer, doesn’t mean it’s the Yoda of the nutrition world. We all have a little Darth Vader in us. And when I say all, I’m including everything that comes from living organisms, including coffee.

Due to our favorite magic elixir and its quite famous side effect, the jitters, need to be used strategically, simply because no combination of nutrients can out perform our most important training aid: sleep. Deep sleep, quite literally, is like doping. In various stages of slumber your body releases many of the same hormones cheating athletes inject themselves with while they’re awake. Hittin’ the hay is so important that the most decorated cyclist in history, Eddy Merckx, famously said, “the Tour [de France] is won in bed.” If coffee is having a negative effect on your sleep patterns then it’s offsetting any good that it’s doing for you.

I thought about this piece last week while lying in bed at 4am, staring at the ceiling, and itching like someone in the depths of drug withdrawal. Thanks to a volcano in Iceland, I found myself stuck in Sicily for the week (poor me, I know). I still had to work, however, and when our afternoon (PST) webinar on the Shakeology Cleanse had nearly 600 attendees it would be quite rude to try and move it just because it happened to be at two o’clock in the morning, my time.

Two AM, however, also happened to be the time that my jet-lagged body was lights out. Normally I’d have no trouble with such a topic in almost any stage. But each night Europe, just after midnight, I’d find myself hitting a wall as though Smokin’ Joe’d just clocked me with a left hook and I’d be dead to the world for about four hours until jet lag would work its voodoo, at which point I’d toss and turn until it was time to hit the cafe. Not wanting to risk disappointed 600 coaches by sounding as though I’d been sparring with Iron Mike I’d finished dinner with a couple of espresso’s, then had an American-style coffee just prior to the chat.

When I’m training hard I can often drink coffee at night and sleep fine. At times, however, I’ll over do it by using coffee as an ergogenic aid prior to training. A recent study showed that more coffee can be better than less, period, for staving off cancer. But all this goodness still has limits. I can always tell when I’m drinking too much coffee because I’ll itch at night. I was never quite certain if it was wholly to blame for this because I live in a dry climate. Sicily is not dry in the least, so when I felt the fateful itch I knew I was in for a long restless night. Quite simply, I’d overdone it. And like under hydrating during a race, over eating at Thanksgiving, or pulling that extra bottle of wine out of the rack I was going to have a price to pay.

So before you parlay the 20,000 or so positive studies for a 64 ounce coffee mug filled with extra-caffeinated Morning Buzz from the 7 Eleven, remember that most of those studies consider a 2 ounce espresso or a 6 ounce mug a serving of coffee. The six servings daily that may stave of prostate cancer could fit in one Starbucks vente. And caffeine may not even be the go to ingredient as some studies showed positive effects with decaf. The lesson here is that, like with most things in nutrition, keeping your coffee servings small and as natural as possible will give your performance the greatest boost.


  • But I think it's a little unfair to pin this one on coffee. Most things in excess are problematic, including many vitamins and minerals. The villain here, as you point out, is the American propensity to consume massive volumes. Poor old coffee is just an innocent bystander.

  • I don't know who you are, but I demand you bring my friend Steve back. Ha.In all honesty though, well put. Its nice to see a well written and enthusiastic piece that takes "the middle path". Cheers.

  • Indeed, poor old coffee has been misused and bastardized. I just wanted to point out my fair and balanced side.

  • Coffee is my one indugence guilt free, minus Starbucks. 2 cups per day. However moderation is the key with anything to stay healthy. Funny my DH can drink it before bed and sleep great, as for me NO coffee after 6pm or it does keep me up. I'm keep my coffee no matter how evil 😉

  • They look like coffee addicts to me, boys. -Norwood

  • Moderation is always key! Simple rules change your life…

  • Everything in moderation! There are some clients that I do caution over consumption, or even any consumption, of caffeine (to include all forms). I have read the positive studies that look at other ingredients in coffee (even decaf) that may have benefits for health. It is one of the most studied foods in the world, and one of the most consumed. I'll stick to my 2 lattes a day! Thanks for a great read–love the picture of the Buttermilks! (That's where it's at, right?) I have a home up there. To health!

  • anyone who thinks coffee is healthy is highly uninformed. its one of the most acidic things you can put in your body. its full of toxins unless its organic. Im a Chiropractic applied kinesiologist, and coffee turns off all major body systems. I see it wreak havoc all the time.

  • A scientific exception to moderation: should be exercised is circumstances the require moderation. Period.

  • What if you drink the coffee IN bed?? 🙂

  • you mean like Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor in Giant? In that case it only helps you sleep if you smoke as well.Charmin, hmmm, 20,000 some-odd coffee studies over the years have been published and 99% of them are positive. And you'll see in the links provided here that some of these involve huge and diverse population based with scientists from many countries over a period of decades. That's a pretty big conspiracy you're conjuring up by saying "anyone".

  • I enjoy what probably equates to 2-3 servings each morning..My mug is huge! But if I drink more than my mug full I do get gittery…very quickly. And I can not drink coffee after 2pm or it causes me to have restless sleep…and I value my sleep a lot! Working out at 4:30am I cannot afford restless sleeping. ;)I do drink organic coffee unless I buy it out and can't find it…most times I make it at home though. 🙂 Great info!

  • Great post, Steve! That definitely gives me a second thought for when I have coffee in the evening!

  • steve – my question to you is, will you continue to drink coffee? as far as addictions are concerned (and it is an addiction for me – headaches follow if i don't drink it), it's not a bad one. i will continue to feed mine.i know my body, and don't drink coffee after 5pm (quitting time for me), and i don't have any problems's healthier than mountain dew! better than red bull? never had it.ever have coffee yogurt? one of the nastiest things i've ever tasted.

  • you should probably read the links in the article. of course i'll continue to drink coffee! why would i stop? i'm just going to try and keep my intake more european in quantity.

  • I am amazed how many Beachbody coaches are also coffee addicts. I am glad to see anything about coffee and coderation in the same sentence!

  • My dad quit drinking coffee some years back when he was hospitalized for a time and they took him off it. He now can fall into deep sleep in a matter of moments and awakens refreshed. I'm jealous. Although I've drunk coffee since I was 3 thanks to my Swedish grandmother. Never stunted my growth as the old wives tales claimed. But sometimes I think I might sleep better without it. My mother drank about 12 cups a day including one after the 11 oclock news before bed. So maybe everyone's different.

  • Just want to say what a great blog you got here! I've been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work! Thumbs up, and keep it going!CheersChristian,

  • Hi Steve, Thanks so much for all that you do. (ya everything).I am not a Coffee drinker, but I was curious if during your times when you "go-clean" from coffee to reset yourself if you every use activated charcoal to help in the detox? And in general what are your thoughts on the use of activated charcoal?

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