For time immemorial, caffeine via coffee has fueled, energized, and helped human beings drag themselves out of bed and get through their day. Coffee has been a wonderful asset to people for centuries, but it does not come without a downside. As many coffee-lovers know all too well, the short burst of energy it provides is often met with a wired, jittery feeling followed by a sudden crash. In addition, the discovery of acrylamides and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in coffee roasted at high heat leaves us wondering if there may be a better way to utilize the benefits of caffeine while avoiding these side effects and toxic byproducts.
To truly get the most out of caffeine, we first must come to terms with a key reality. Caffeine is NOT energy. It is NOT fuel. Rather, caffeine is a stimulant that binds to adenosine receptors in the brain and speeds up neural activity. In order to respond optimally to this stimulus, it is crucial to supply low-glycemic fuels that prolong the absorption of caffeine without outstripping the body’s fuel supply before caffeine levels drop off.
By the same principle, it is not surprising that studies suggest having that first cup of coffee after breakfast rather than before eating anything. A recent study from the University of Bath supports these findings: “strong black coffee consumed before breakfast substantially increased the blood glucose response to breakfast by around 50%.” According to Professor James Betts, Co-Director of the Centre for Nutrition, Exercise, and Metabolism at the University of Bath who oversaw the work, explains: “Put simply, our blood sugar control is impaired when the first thing our bodies come into contact with is coffee especially after a night of disrupted sleep. We might improve this by eating first and then drinking coffee later if we still feel we need it. Knowing this can have important health benefits for us all.”
Recognizing the limitations of coffee also provides some insight into the shortcomings of other caffeinated beverages. The majority of energy drinks, for example, have either zero calories or high levels of simple carbohydrates such as high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). With no calories, the caffeine will outstrip its fuel supply and the brain essentially sputters out. With HFCS, the body experiences a glycemic spike which causes insulin resistance in the brain and gums up its ability to respond. To support caffeine properly, the next generation of functional beverages will seek to include a protein source such as collagen, a source of keto-friendly fatty acids like medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), and potent antioxidants while providing a low-glycemic load of less than 10g of sugar carbs. This, in essence, is Breinfuel.
In summary, caffeine is an amazing molecule that must be used intelligently for best results. It is capable of improving cognitive function, short-term memory, and of course, helping us feel more alert and energized. By learning how to support it properly, we can create an evolved paradigm for caffeinated beverages and fuel our society better than ever before.