What is the Best Time of Day to Drink Coffee?

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by | Oct 10, 2017 | General

If you’re like most people, you’re reading this while holding onto a mug of coffee. More than half of all Americans drink coffee on a daily basis, reports the Harvard School of Public Health, and the average person drinks more than three 9-ounce cups a day.[1] It is undisputedly one of America’s favorite beverages, and scientists are now exploring how when we drink is just as important as what we drink.

When Do Most People Drink Their Coffee?

In terms of timing, Harvard’s statistics show that more people drink their coffee with breakfast. Meanwhile, 30 percent of people say they drink coffee between meals, and a measly 5 percent of people drink it at lunch or dinner.

And yet that morning cup of Joe might not be the best time to sip it. Research shows that depending on your health and wellness goals, there are several distinct timing strategies to optimize your health and energy.

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Avoid Drinking Coffee in the Morning

coffee early morningWhen you first get out of bed, your brain floods your body with a hormone called cortisol.[2] It’s the hormone that helps keep your circadian rhythm, or your sleep-wake cycle, on track.[3] Its purpose in the morning is to wake you up and get your day going.

Interestingly enough, studies have found that the caffeine in coffee has a similar effect and actually stimulates elevated levels of cortisol.[4] So as your brain is doing its job to prompt the release of energizing hormones, drinking coffee actually dilutes the effects of cortisol. You’re essentially “wasting” the positive energizing benefits of coffee.

So while it may seem counterintuitive, not drinking coffee and letting your body do its job can actually help you to feel more awake in the morning. Cortisol levels start to naturally go down later in the morning, which would be a more opportune time to enjoy a caffeine jolt.

If you still want coffee because it’s part of the ritual of waking up, try decaf coffee instead. It has many of the same nutrients and antioxidants,[5] without the unnecessary caffeine in regular coffee.

Drink Coffee Between Meals

In the Harvard report, only 5 percent of people said they drank coffee between meals. Yet if you look at your circadian rhythm and your cortisol levels, that might actually be the most optimum time to grab a coffee cup.

Cortisol levels peak for most people between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.[6] When cortisol levels are at their highest, you need the energy from coffee the least. Cortisol levels rise again around noon, and then again around dinnertime between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., although levels don’t spike as high as they do in the morning.

To enjoy the energizing effects of coffee the most, it then makes sense to time your coffee habit between these cortisol peaks. Enjoy a cup of coffee between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., then perhaps have another cup or two between lunch and dinner.

This maximizes the energy efficiency of your coffee habit!

Don’t Drink Coffee Too Late in the Afternoon

coffee sleepyNearly 70 million Americans have trouble sleeping, warns the American Sleep Association.[7] And one of the most common reasons is a poorly timed cup of coffee.[8]

While it’s important to have your coffee after lunch to maximize the caffeine-and-cortisol cycle, don’t drink coffee too late in the afternoon. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it can take six hours or more for your body to eliminate the caffeine.

Thus, if your bedtime is normally around 10 p.m., you may want to cut yourself off from coffee no later than 4 p.m. If your bedtime is around 11:30 p.m., you may wish to put down the coffee around 5:30 p.m. This allows you to still enjoy a mid-meal afternoon coffee to awaken and energize yourself as cortisol levels start to dip, but you won’t jeopardize your ability to fall asleep and stay in a deep, rejuvenating state of mind.

If you mess up and accidentally have coffee too late in the afternoon, you can still calm your nervous system and attempt to cancel out the caffeine in your body. Proven strategies include:[9]

  • Avoid bright lights from the TV or your phone.
  • Keep the room as dark as possible. Consider blackout curtains to keep out street lights.
  • Try a relaxation technique like meditation, deep breathing or turning on relaxing music.
  • Take magnesium, which is nature’s “chill pill.”

Have Some Coffee Before Exercise

coffee & exerciseSupplement companies love to boast about how their pills or shakes can keep you fit and strong, but few products are as well-researched as a simple cup of coffee. Whether you’re simply walking around the block with your dog to burn some calories and stay healthy, or if you’re a gym rat wanting to bulk up and become a bodybuilder, coffee could be the secret to unlock your health success.

For example, coffee prompts the release of epinephrine in your body, which can reduce exercise fatigue and make you more energized while working out.[10]

Coffee also helps break down your fat cells, so you burn more fat when you’re in the gym.[11]

Studies also show that coffee is thermogenic. In other words, it raises your body’s core temperature so you burn more calories and have a higher metabolism.[12]

Coffee can also activate more of your muscle fibers, so you’re stronger and have more endurance when exercising.[13]

Finally, coffee affects glycogen levels. Glycogen is the carbohydrates that your muscles store for energy. By influencing your glycogen levels, coffee can boost your endurance.[14]

So the next time you’re heading out for a jog or driving to the neighborhood gym, bring a cup of coffee with you. It will energize you, help you bust through your exercise fatigue, and help you to lose weight and look more toned, fit and happy.

What Can Coffee Do For You?

In summary, timing is far more important than most men and women realize. In fact, if Harvard’s timing study is accurate, the majority of people who have their coffee in the morning are missing out on most of its benefits.

If you’re serious about looking and feeling your best, don’t drink coffee first thing in the morning when your body is naturally producing cortisol and waking yourself up on its own. Instead, have it mid-morning and mid-afternoon when cortisol levels start to drop. This helps you get every energizing benefit out of your coffee habit without unnecessarily increasing your tolerance and cancelling out your body’s own rhythms.

Additionally, don’t drink your coffee more than six hours from your bedtime. Not unless you want to ruin a good night’s sleep (and need more coffee the next day to stay awake).

Finally, employ coffee as your secret weapon the next time you exercise. It will help you see results faster than working out without coffee.

Coffee is America’s most common habit. It brings us together in coffee shops and dining rooms. It bonds us in a common ritual. And as researchers are now exploring, it’s just as important to know when to drink coffee as it is to know how to order coffee. Grande macchiato, anyone?

[1] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/multimedia-article/facts/

[2] https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=167&contentid=cortisol_serum

[3] https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ije/2012/749460/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257922/

[5] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-food/201105/why-decaf-coffee-is-just-healthy

[6] http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-cortisol

[7] https://www.sleepassociation.org/sleep/sleep-statistics/

[8] https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/caffeine-and-sleep

[9] http://endrape.msu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Sleep-Tips-Two-Page-Document.pdf

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7775331

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7775331

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2333832

[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10444642

[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18467543

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