Categorized as: Nutrition

Is Coffee Bad?

 

This was the first question I received from a little nutrition presentation I did.  The audience turned to the questioner then to me as they were clearly thinking the same thing…. “Do I have to give up my sweet, precious, liquid gold?!”

The answer was “no, it’s not, but maybe yes, it depends…” This is the standard response for many health and fitness questions because everything depends on the person, goals and context – (be skeptical of those who say otherwise).

Yes! You’re an individual! And your processing of coffee is going to be different to that guy you know who makes a brew before he goes to bed. You might be like 50% of the population and have a variant of the CYP1A2 gene which makes you a ‘slow metaboliser’ of caffeine, putting you more at risk of hypertension, heart disease and impaired fasting glucose through excess coffee consumption. You might be taking oral contraceptives – this will double the clearance rate for caffeine, so you’re probably good with half a shot of espresso if you’re on the pill.

But coffee, let’s talk about the good:

  • It increases resting energy expenditure
  • It increases mental energy.
  • It enhances cognitive function
  • It increases neuromuscular function and coordination.
  • It has many antioxidant properties.
  • It Increases short term memory.

But we know this, right, the media loves headlines that boast the benefits of coffee, and there has been a lot of research documenting these pros. We must also remember that caffeine is a drug, and like all drugs it does have its drawbacks.

 

Enter Adenosine:

adenosine

So when we finish that yin yoga class, adenosine is produced and we feel like a space cadet. Take that same yin yoga class, but add an espresso half an hour before and we won’t have the same spaced out feeling. Why? because caffeine blocks adenosine production, up-regulating our own neurotransmitters such as dopamine and glutamate, and blocking our capacity to slllooww doowwnnn. So caffeine is not actually making us wired, it’s putting a brick on the brake pedal, allowing us to keep charging.

BUT I LIKE BEING UP AND ABOUT, HARD CHARGING, ALWAYS ON THE GO, DOING EVERYTHING AT ONCE…

 

Enter Context:

To work out the effects of coffee, we must factor in our external environment. Most of us live in a sympathetic/stress dominant society. High intensity exercise, smartphones, 12 hour workdays and the ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ mantra means that we’re often wired from dawn to dusk – no this is not good. Add caffeine to this sympathetic state and we can easily become over – stimulated where anxiety and jitteriness can override the cognitive benefits to the brew.

I can attest to this in my own life. Get me on a holiday and 2 coffees a day will really hit the spot but if I have the same amount when I’m in the city, running a business, studying and training heavily and that same amount might send me over the edge. Realising this has led me to avoiding caffeine in stressful times like exams or long work days, but enjoying it when I feel myself more balanced.

 

In a more practical sense, let’s look at when coffee can or cannot help you:

At Work

Studies show that coffee is good for ‘getting shit done.’ Not necessarily for creativity but for completing learned tasks that don’t require creativity or intuition. For unskilled, learned behaviour, e.g. data entry, you can get a lot more done, and probably have more fun.

Verdict: Use.

brain-healthy-food

The story is different when we need to apply abstract thinking and creativity. Studies indicate that caffeine will improve speed, but not necessarily skill. Though creativity is hard to measure in a lab setting, there’s some good evidence to suggest that moments of insight happen with the wandering mind. In my experience, moments of creativity occur when we’re in a float tank, after a yoga class, in meditation, and not when you’re forcing it. For me, jacking myself up with caffeine to inject some creativity often results in reverting to admin because we LOVE GETTING SHIT DONE.

Verdict: Avoid.

 

For Sport:

For power sports like powerlifting and weightlifting, caffeine can play a role but I’d limit it to competition days and times when you really need a pickup. If you require it to get you psyched for every training session then you should take a day off and go for a walk in the sun.

Verdict: Avoid as a ‘pick me up,’ use in competition days.

In high intensity sports like MMA and CrossFit, caffeine can be effective, but again, if you’re using it to get you psyched about a workout then it’s time to pause and reflect. I’ve been around CrossFit for awhile and I’ve seen many people rely on stimulants to get them through workouts, neglecting the messages their body is sending them and leaving them susceptible to injury and burnout. Further, they block the parasympathetic nervous system activation that’s essential for recovery, and they end up moving through workouts without any purpose or intent – kind of like a wounded warrior in a battle scene who’s throwing their sword around courageously but failing to connect.

Verdict: Use on competition days and avoid reliance on it.

In endurance sports like rugby, AFL, or triathlon I don’t think caffeine has a place in training or on game day. The effects of caffeine are too short lived to be beneficial for the whole game. In these sports we need to think about longevity, recovery, and getting up and going week after week. Caffeine could only be used for the last 20 minute push in a grand final, but we want to be relying on adrenaline and muscular endurance 99% of the time.

Verdict: Avoid except for the last 20 minutes in a Grand Final.

In Social Occasions

Coffee holds a special place in our culture, and for many it’s a beautiful tool for getting people together, and this is the more important than any of the above. I’m coming to believe that the healthiest thing that you can do is have a good community and quality relationships, so I won’t let any of the above get in the way of enjoying coffee for social reasons.

Verdict: Use

 

Summary

If you enjoy coffee and it’s helping you in some form or another, then go for it. If you’re operating from one espresso to the next then maybe it’s time for a few days off, or a yoga class. For athletes, I’d seriously look at the effect that coffee is having on adrenal function and performance, and use it sparingly. Again, the case of coffee comes down to bio-individuality; who you are, what your goals are etc.  One thing that we can all agree on though, is that you should always, at all costs, avoid decaf.

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Steve is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner. While based in London, he works with clients around the world to restore health using fitness, nutrition and lifestyle protocols.

References:

Baird B, Smallwood J, Mrazek M, Kam J, Franklin M, Schooler, J. (2012). “Inspired by distraction: mind wandering facilitates creative incubation.” Psychological Science. 23(10).

Cornelis, El – Sohemy, Kabagambe & Campos. (2006) “Coffee, CYP1A2 genotype, and risk of myocardial infarction.” JAMA, 2006. 295(10).

Glade, Michael J. “Caffeine—Not Just a Stimulant.” Nutrition 26.10 (2010): 932-38.

Lifehacker: “What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain.” http://lifehacker.com/5585217/what-caffeine-actually-does-to-your-brain

Mackenzie, Todd, Richard Comi, Patrick Sluss, Ronit Keisari, Simone Manwar, Janice Kim, Robin Larson, and John A. Baron. “Metabolic and Hormonal Effects of Caffeine: Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Crossover Trial.” Metabolism 56.12 (2007): 1694-698.

Martinez, Campbell Franek, Buchanan, Colquhoun. “The effect of acute pre – workout supplementation on power and strength performance.” Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition. (2016): 13:29.

How Many Carbs Should I Be Having? First Let’s Look in the Mirror

 

In a world of keto, low carb, high fat, low carb high fat, paleo, primal, vegan and carnivarian (actually a thing now) there’s no wonder there’s so much mass confusion about what the best diet is. Amongst these doctrines, there is very little room for context – the low carb keto folk will say that carbs are the devil, without considering someone’s level of exercise or hormone status, while some vegan folk think that plants will change the world and meat causes diabetes – an actual claim from the recent propaganda film: What the Health.

And I get it, tribes are cool and extremes are easy, but in order to work out what YOU should be eating, the solution goes beyond tribalism and into your personal framework. We learnt this in my previous post on carbs making you fat where I made the claim that carb intake should be dependent on your activity level and goals (weight loss, mass gain, performance). In this post we go deeper and look at different bodytypes and their ability to turn carbs into energy or store as bodyfat…. Yes, there’s solid evidence to say that your carb intake should be determined by your bodytype!

Let’s look at the three main bodytypes or somatotypes made popular by William Sheldon in 1940 (you might remember them from high school health class):

  1. Ectomorph
  2. Mesomorph
  3. Endomorph


Two important footnotes:

  1. You’re not one strict bodytype. It’s important to know that you don’t fall strictly into one category – categorisation always sucks! Rather, we’re a mix of all, and have one dominant bodytype, much like the vata, pitta and kapha doshas in ayurvedic medicine.
  2. You can move between bodytypes. It’s also possible that an endo can become a meso or a meso to become an ecto. Diet, activity and lifestyle play a strong role in where we sit and where we can go – GREAT NEWS!

 

Ectomorph:

These folk are usually long, lean and wirey. They are known as “hard gainers” as they will have a tough time putting on mass. They use strength from their nervous system rather than muscle mass, making recovery extra important.

On Carbs: These guys shouldn’t worry too much about how many carbs they’re taking in. They’re usually sensitive to insulin (good thing), making them efficient carb burners. They’re usually sympathetic nervous system dominant, have a high metabolic rate, and can annoy many of their friends by eating whatever they want and remain thin.

Nutrition recommendations: Ensure you’re getting a good amount of carbs throughout the day, particularly around exercise. Also make sure you’re getting protein at every meal. Your body wants to stay lean, so make sure you keep your muscle mass high by eating enough protein. And don’t use your ecto status to eat whatever you want! You must take care of your gut, liver and nervous system (all seem to be more sensitive with ectomorphs) by eating quality foods.

Exercise recommendations: You may like your cardio because you’re good at it, but don’t ignore weight training as it’s probably going to be more important for you. Do compound exercises (squat, bench press, pullup, deadlift) at a heavy weight and make sure your nervous system is well recovered between sessions.

I hate celebrity comparisons but Beiber is all Ecto

 

Mesomorph

These guys are characterised by having higher levels of testosterone and growth hormone, and  having a high potential to gain muscle mass. Like their ectomorph friends, they’re usually more insulin sensitive, making it easy to process carbs, especially if they’re active. Ectomorphs usually hate these guys as they can spend a few months at the gym and be looking like the hulk.  Mesomorphs guys should still watch what they eat if they want to stay lean, as a big off season can mean storing of bodyfat. Carbs should still be eaten at every meal, and should be prioritised around training.

Nutrition Recommendations: Eat a mixed diet of proteins, carbs and fats, getting a solid serving of carbs in around workouts. If you’re more sedentary, watch your carb consumption if you want to keep lean and mean.

Exercise Recommendations: Ensure you keep up a regular training regime. Don’t let it slide and rely on your natural athleticism! Embrace variation and get into both strength and conditioning.

Serena Williams: The ultimate Meso.

 

Endomorph

Our more grounded, heavy set friends, these folk are known to be less active, and often curse themselves for their uncanny ability to put on weight… They’re usually weapons in the weight room, and have a natural ability to lift BIG.

Carbs for these folk should be taken in with caution, as too many can easily be stored as bodyfat. Getting the bulk of them in around exercise is a good idea, and monitoring their intake at our times in the day is also recommended.

Nutrition Recommendations: Prioritise fat and protein, and get the bulk of your carbs around your workouts. A low carb diet might work well for you, particularly if you’re sedentary. Also, chew your food for improved satiety signalling and watch for portion sizes! If you’re new this, you might want to track your calories via an app like myfitnesspal to get an idea of where you’re at.

Exercise Recommendations: Move! It may not always feel easy but trust me it’s worth it. Cardio might feel tough, but it’s going to do you the world of good and give you energy! And cardio doesn’t always mean running! If you can’t make it to the gym, then a long walk is nearly as good.

 

If anyone knows this lady, I’m currently taking on new clients.

So what to take away from this? Work out where you’re at, where you want to go, then put together the right plan to get you there. If you need some help getting yourself there, that’s where coaches come into play!

Feel free to get in contact here to organise your free consultation and talk about your health coaching options.

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Steve is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner. While based in London, he works with clients around the world to restore health using fitness, nutrition and lifestyle protocols.

*Disclaimer: This post is for information purposes only, and is not designed to diagnose or treat any disease. Always seek help from a medical professional whenever you undergo any dietary change.

References:

Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin SecretionThe DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2673150

The role of carbohydrates in insulin resistance. The Journal of Nutrition. DOI: https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/131/10/2782S/4686473

Main characteristics of metabolically obese normal weight and metabolically healthy obese phenotypes. Nutrition Reviews. DOI: https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/article-abstract/73/3/175/1837133?redirectedFrom=fulltext

Somatotype, Nutrition and Obesity. Reviews on Environmental Health. DOI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11199249

Somatotype and disease prevalence in adults. Reviews on Environmental Health. DOI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12088094

Carbs… Will they make you fat?

carbohydrates-foods

 

Carbs…. it’s a dirty word. Controversy, curiosity, even conflict arises when you bring up this word among the healthsphere.  Everyone has an opinion on carbs; how essential they are, how they’re going to kill you or how they make you a bad person. The food industry has noticed this too and we’ve seen a low carb revolution where people can feel better about their 6th pint of beer because this one is low carb.

A few things about carbs before we start:

  • There are many foods that are classified as carbohydrates: breads, pasta, rice, potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, oats, fruits, legumes.
  • They’re one of three macronutrients, alongside fat and protein.
  • They’re broken up into sugars, starches or fibre.
  • They mostly provide energy, but can easily be turned into fat (this is an important evolutionary mechanism).
  • They’re actually non – essential (despite what our health professionals may believe). You can get on fine without them, whereas protein and fats are essential.

Much of the myopia around carbs has come from our awful food guidelines that have told us to eat a shitload of them. And why not, they’re cheap, easy to access, and usually delicious. Check out the old food pyramid:

Pyramid2007

After a few decades of rampant obesity and dietary disease, people began to question this pyramid and everything we believed about nutrition. There’s a great piece from the New York Times on that here. As a result, there’s been a crusade of folk condemning carbs, many trying low carb diets, paleo diets, ketogenic diets. Many doing well off them, many not so well.

Like most things in nutrition, the answers about carbs really depends on you. Who are you? What do you do? How does this feel? how does that feel? The answer cannot be explained in a buzzfeed news title.

These nuances are prevalent in the many studies that have been done on different diets of traditional societies. On one side there are the Kitavans who eat a high carb diet (rich in starches) on the other side there are the massai who are reported to eat a diet low in carbs. Which is superior? Well, both diets seem to work as they don’t suffer from any dietary related disease or metabolic syndrome, and are robustly healthy as noted in Staffan Lindeberg’s research

Where we DO have some more answers is with carbs and their influence on physical activity. And we know this, right? “Carbs give you energy!” Says everyone who objects to your low carb diet. And they’re not wrong, carbs are a valuable source of energy and they’re the body’s first choice of fuel for most physical activity. Though this mantra tends to be abused as the office jockey will stock up on muffins to give her “energy” to get through the day.

So what do I do?

First, start by “earning your carbs” which means we’re matching our carb intake with our physical activity, and getting the nutrient timing right to maximise your recovery.

To make this simpler, here are three different people, with very lifestyles, each of whom has a completely different carbohydrate need:

 

Person 1: Office Jockey

Goals: Lose 20kg of bodyfat.

Training Volume: Very Little. This guy moves from his bed, to his car, to his office and then reverses these steps at the end of the day.

keith from the office

Recommended Carb Intake: Very little. I’d recommend going  low in carbohydrates (<100g per day) and sticking to a higher fat, moderate protein diet. These carbs should come mostly from green leafy vegetables and he should go easy on the fruit. Since weight loss is his main goal, I’d prioritise fat and protein, and aim to get these at every meal. It also goes without saying that he should get some god damn movement in his life and avoid all refined carbs and sugars.

Photo: If anyone knows Keith from the Office then can you please pass him my card.

 

Person 2: Fit Mum

fit mum kids

Goals: Lose a few kgs, stay in shape for life, keep up with her kids.

Training Volume: Crossfit 3xpw, long walks on weekends, general moving around with kids.

Recommended Carb Intake: Moderate. Between 100-150g per day, and slightly more on training days. Carbs should come from green leafy veggies, and starches (potato, sweet potato, pumpkin) and the bulk of her intake should come post workout. Two pieces of fruit per day is okay, but she shouldn’t go overboard, and should still make sure she’s getting adequate protein and fat at each meal.

 

Person 3: Games Athlete

Goals: Improved performance: stronger, faster, compete at an elite level.

Training Volume: Training 6+ times per week, sometimes twice a day. Lifts weights, sprints, does cardio, and high intensity sessions.

Recommended Carb Intake: High, >200g of carbs per day, from a variety of sources: starches (potato, sweet potato), rice, rice, oats, whole grains.

BUT THEN…

Even these are very vague guidelines. If you want a more accurate snapshot, you need to factor in thyroid status, adrenal profile, and gut function and this can play a huge role in the impact carbs will play on the body. For example, if we’re suffering from hypothyroidism, then a moderate carb approach will be more appropriate due to the raised insulin and conversion of T4 into T3. Whereas if you’ve got blood sugar issues, then any sort of ‘moderate’ approach to carb consumption can be like kryptonite.

Here’s a good graphic from the masterful Chris Kresser detailing this more:

kresser - The-3-Step-Process-to-Determining-Your-Ideal-Carbohydrate-Intake1

 

Summary

So as you can see, there’s no perfect health diet for all humans, and anyone who says otherwise is misinformed or an arsehole. A good place to start would be asking yourself, “what is my physical activity like?” “How do I feel when I eat this?” “Am I over/underweight?” What’s my performance like?” “Do I have an underlying health condition?” With an understanding of your body and it’s needs, you’re setting yourself to be a strong and capable human.

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Steve is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and a Coach at Crossfit London.