• Siri DeMarche

Coffee Best Practices; HOW & WHEN to Consume for Cognitive Output, Physical Performance, & Fat Loss

Updated: Mar 21

*As always, scroll to the very bottom for a TLDR synopsis*


First off, not all coffee is created equal and not all individuals tolerate it well, nor is it beneficial for everyone. Check out this read and this read for more info. Now with those caveats out of the way, we can hack America's favorite mornin'...afternoon and evening...(let's be real) cup of liquid productivity. To get the most bang for your buck from your daily cup(s) of coffee, timing is key. We can manipulate the timing of our coffee consumption to get the most benefit, if we know a thing or two about how our body's hormones work. To understand how we can optimally manipulate our intake of coffee (and caffeine) to get the most benefit, we must understand exactly what hormones are involved. For the sake of this post, we will focus on Insulin and the catecholamine, Adrenaline (aka epinephrine). Disclaimer: because most of us are drinking coffee as our main source of caffeine (and not popping caffeine pills), the caffeine as a main active compound in coffee will be discussed in insolation of its additional diverse antioxidant compounds.


When we're talking about fat loss and blood sugar, insulin is the major player. In fact, coffee/caffeine actually increases blood sugar. Don't panic! Special cases notwithstanding, this increase in blood sugar actually works to our advantage. A very straightforward randomized crossover study, published in The Journal of Diabetes Care, took a look at two groups of participants. One group consumed a caffeine supplement and the other group consumed a placebo. The researchers were looking to measure the overall insulin sensitivity of the two groups. They found the group that consumed the caffeine supplement had a 15% decrease in insulin sensitivity (becoming slightly insulin resistant) and a five fold increase in adrenaline (epinephrine), as well as a mobilization of free fatty acids. This insulin resistance might sound like a negative, but it is not (again special cases notwithstanding). To unpack why this is not a negative, let's talk hormones.


Coffee causes an adrenaline spike. This increase in adrenaline explains why blood sugar levels become elevated post caffeine consumption. Adrenaline is a key hormone in the 'fight or flight' response, whereby it stimulates the liver to release glucose into the bloodstream. During 'fight or flight,' the body is in a situation where it demands quick energy be available for efficient use. To do this, it must mobilize fat (exactly what caffeine does) and release stored glucose from our liver and from our muscles. It does this via two physiological processes; glycogenolysis and gluconeogenesis. The liver breaks down stored glucose, in the form of glycogen, and it also breaks down non-glucose sources of energy like fat. In other words, the body prepares itself by ensuring that enough energy is readily available for efficient use. The body does this while also blunting insulin. WHAT?! This may not sound like a good thing, but hold your neighing horses! This caveat is super interesting and shows how cool the body's design really is (and I'll explain how we can use this to our advantage later on). So we have an increase in blood sugar, without a subsequent rise in insulin, meaning that the body is forced to burn that readily available glucose. This is one of the reasons that you get physical energy from your cup of coffee. That rise in blood sugar inherently also encourages you to move so that you can burn that free glucose.


Regulation of gluconeogenesis: major substrates & enzymes

Here's how it goes down:

You consume coffee--> Adrenaline levels increase by 5x--> Insulin sensitivity (and insulin levels overall) decrease--> The release of the hormone, glucagon, is triggered--> Glucagon switches on fat burning, free fatty acid mobilization (through lipolysis), and also triggers glucose to release.


*While this can decrease insulin sensitivity, it does not have an effect on insulin signaling.




Studies have shown that caffeine triggers a temporary insulin resistance response. Caffeine increases adrenaline, which also increases lipolysis. Caffeine breaks down fat tissue and releases fatty acids into the bloodstream to be used for energy, which is interesting because insulin inhibits lipolysis. So why would this be a good thing? Well having a wee bit of insulin resistance, when controlled and temporary, allows you some flexibility with your diet- if you are otherwise normally spot on with your eating, when not in a brief state of insulin resistance. When you are insulin sensitive, aka the opposite of being insulin resistant (like after a fast, after a strenuous workout, on a low carb diet...), you are in a position to absorb nutrients extra quickly- which is great! The caveat being that you are dialed in and totally spot on with your diet. What you consume when you are most insulin sensitive is what will get absorbed into your cells and have the largest effect on your body- good or bad. Your choice if you want sh*t in your cells or real nutrients. The age old, "oh I just had a real tough workout, time to treat myself, gotta replenish those lost stores somehow!" is complete bogus. After a strenuous workout, you are extremely insulin sensitive. This means that what you consume has the power to aid in your recovery, build your muscles, strengthen your tendons, enhance your mental acuity, prevent future injuries...etc. It also means that you can really and royally f*ck it up.


If you regularly read this blog, you know by now that a calorie is not equal to another calorie. Quality matters. Different things store differently in your body, different things digest differently in your body, different things play different roles in the 37 thousand billion billion (no that is not a typo) chemical reactions that take place every second in your body. If you have a professional in your life that tells you otherwise, be it a doctor or a coach, fire them or at the least, educate yourself. The only exception-ish (more of a short-term bandaid bliss than a true exception) is if you are still young and active. This is because other biochemical reactions, hormonal responses, and surges are still more optimally operating and thus it appears that you'll bounce back from anything. Caution: this is short-term blinded bandaided bliss. But regardless, until you understand the concept of properly fueling your cells (even if you are young and active), you will never realize your potential (in any modality), nor will you optimally set your future self up for success.


Regulation of lipolysis in humans: fasted (insulin sensitive) vs. fed (more insulin resistant)

When you are super insulin sensitive, you have the power to absorb a lot of really cool nutrients to do a lot of really cool sh*t within your body. Unfortunately, the majority of us are not totally dialed in when it comes to our eating patterns, and as such, we're pretty apt to screw it up. *Insert shameless plug for Habitually Holistic personal coaching* :)


Additionally, high levels of insulin equals less fat loss. If we are insulin sensitive and consume (for simplicity's sake) a carbohydrate, our insulin levels spike. This can be a good thing, but it also halts fat loss. As discussed, caffeine elicits a temporary increase in insulin resistance. This means that for a brief period of time, you can get away with being more flexible with your diet- because you are not extracting and absorbing as many nutrients as you would be if you were in a state of insulin sensitivity. In other words, what you consume when you are most insulin sensitive will have the largest affect on your biochemistry. Caffeine is not stopping insulin from being produced, but rather it is preventing it from binding to the appropriate receptor. If insulin cannot bind to its receptor, it does not allow nutrients into the cell, other than to just be burned as a quick source of energy.


Caffeine breaks down fat tissue and releases fatty acids into the bloodstream to be used for energy (through lipolysis). Adrenaline causes temporary insulin resistance, which is actually beneficial (and the body is really smart). If insulin levels are high, it inhibits the exact mechanisms of fat burning that caffeine is stimulating. As a result, our body finds a way to allow for fat burning to occur by becoming temporarily insulin resistant. In a state of impaired insulin sensitivity, insulin cannot bind to its receptor properly, preventing it from triggering its anti-fat burning effects.


To sum it all up; caffeine increases adrenaline, which increases lipolysis- an increase in free fatty acids shooting around your body causes a subsequent (but necessary) drop in insulin sensitivity to allow you to actually burn the mobilized fat. So caffeine has a "negative" effect on insulin sensitivity, but not on insulin itself.



Now that the necessary background is out of the way, when is the best time to consume coffee??? Here are the goods;


1) When insulin levels are at their lowest.

If your insulin levels are already low and you consume caffeine, it will instigate more of a fat burning response. For example, when you are fasted first thing in the morning. It is important here to remember that what you consume with that caffeine will also be absorbed into your cells. Hello whatever you put into your coffee, or eat alongside your morning cup.


2) Pre-workout (but not for energy's sake)

Because you are mobilizing fat with the intake of caffeine pre-workout, you are allowing that fat to be readily available to be burned during your workout. In addition, insulin allows glucose to release into the bloodstream, and because you are working out, you'll burn that glucose more quickly.


3) Post-workout

Consuming caffeine post workout encourages the uptake of glycogen. What this means is that the carbohydrates that you consume post-workout are more likely to be absorbed into the muscle. Research shows that post-workout caffeine encourages glycogen uptake by 66%. Meaning that your muscles take in 66% more glycogen after a workout, when caffeine is present. A 66% increase is huge. Nail your post workout meal with proper/functional nutrition + combine it with caffeine= BOOM. See some gains earlier and recover quicker.


That being said, is there a time when you should not consume coffee? The answer is YES and for the exact reason why it can be so beneficial post workout- that 66% uptake in glycogen. Imagine a 66% uptake in glycogen, but without creating a need for that extra glycogen in the first place. We know now that caffeine allows a spike in blood glucose to occur. If you consume caffeine in the presence of carbohydrate, you're in for a wee bit of hurt. Caffeine consumed with carbohydrate creates a crash. No bueno, life sucks, work doesn't get done...just don't do it :) This is also why you feel laser focused when you drink (quality) fatty coffee (recipe here)- there is no aftermath crash.


Here's why;


Imagine you just had a bunch of glucose, so now your glucose is already elevated. Now you have just consumed coffee. That coffee overrides everything and triggers adrenaline. That adrenaline declares, "ya'll need to release more glucose!" More glucose is released. So you took your blood sugar from already being high (with the carbohydrate intake) to even higher. But now you have jet fuel behind it because you have adrenaline in your body to burn the glucose quickly. So first you caused a huge spike in glucose, because you had caffeine with carbohydrate, and then suddenly your blood glucose drops. And BOOM you crash. When you drink a (quality) fatty coffee (recipe here), there is no crash because you are not consuming caffeine in the presence of carbohydrate. Thorough research is now showing that the culprit of the dreaded crash is indeed the combination of caffeine with carbohydrates. Use this information to your advantage. No crash=higher lasting cognitive function (and also increased fat burning).



TLDR

You consume coffee--> Adrenaline levels increase by 5x--> Insulin sensitivity (and insulin levels overall) decrease--> The release of the hormone, glucagon, is triggered--> Glucagon switches on fat burning, free fatty acid mobilization (through lipolysis), and also triggers glucose to release.


Caffeine breaks down fat tissue and releases fatty acids into the bloodstream to be used for energy (through lipolysis). Adrenaline causes temporary insulin resistance, which is actually beneficial. If insulin levels are high, it inhibits the exact mechanisms of fat burning that caffeine is stimulating. As a result, our body finds a way to allow for fat burning to occur by becoming temporarily insulin resistant. In a state of impaired insulin sensitivity, insulin cannot bind to its receptor properly, preventing it from triggering its anti-fat burning effects. Caffeine increases adrenaline, which increases lipolysis- an increase in free fatty acids shooting around your body causes a subsequent (but necessary) drop in insulin sensitivity to allow you to actually burn the mobilized fat. So caffeine has a "negative" effect on insulin sensitivity, but not on insulin itself.


The best times to consume caffeine for fat loss and mental & physical performance are, 1) when insulin levels are at their lowest, 2) pre-workout, 3) post-workout. Do not consume caffeine in the presence of carbohydrate, unless following a strenuous workout. Consume quality fatty coffee (recipe here) to prevent a post-caffeine crash or mid-morning slump.


References:

Caffeine-induced impairment of insulin action but not insulin signaling in human skeletal muscle is reduced by exercise.

Effect of epinephrine on glucose metabolism in humans: contribution of the liver.

Increasing daily coffee consumption may reduce type 2 diabetes risk

Caffeine can decrease insulin sensitivity in humans.

Effects of Coffee Consumption on Fasting Blood Glucose and Insulin Concentrations

Dear Mark: Coffee and Insulin, Fat and Post-Workout Meals

Blood Sugar & Stress



Statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or any other medical body. I do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.





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