Coffee contains the crystalline compound known as caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system and when we ingest it, the body responds by secreting the stress hormone cortisol.
Cortisol is a low-grade adrenaline that is produced in the adrenal glands. It is known as the “fight-or-flight” hormone which is activated during times of stress. It is there to help us battle through our stressful, day-to-day encounters.
When we drink coffee, we put the the body into an apparently stressful situation. In order to get out of this stressful situation, the body requires energy. Cortisol provides the body with the immediate energy it needs, in the form of glucose. In fact, cortisol is more specifically labelled as a glucocorticoid – a steroid hormone that effects blood sugar metabolism.
Cortisol does everything it can to get glucose to the cells. One way it does so is by breaking down protein (our muscles) and converting the amino acids into glucose, which are then used as fuel. This process primarily takes place in the liver and is often referred to as gluconeogenesis.
Less muscle mass means the metabolism comes to a downward spiral, burning fewer calories at rest and ultimately storing away more body fat as a result. People with chronically elevated cortisol levels, typically portray a disproportionate ratio of muscle to fat, with predominant fat accumulation in the umbilical site.
Whilst acute cortisol levels are necessary for every day functioning, chronically elevated cortisol levels can have long-term ramifications to our health and wellbeing. Drinking copious amounts of coffee all day long, is a surefire way of developing adrenal burnout and chronic fatigue. It only adds further, unnecessary stress to our already stressful lifestyles.
If coffee was to be consumed, it would be best taken prior to a workout. Doing so would not only improve the drive and energy to exercise, it would also prepare the body that the stressor of the forthcoming workout is imminent.
Once the workout is complete, self-inflicted coffee stress is no longer necessary. One of the most counterproductive things to do, would be to consume coffee right after training. We want to offset workout-induced cortisol levels, not amplify them further.
Enjoy that cup of coffee by all means, just make sure you time it right.