Does caffeine really help with burning fat and weight loss?

Over the past 15 years, the consumption of coffee has become so popular that most people will have a favourite blend and know their barista by name. Nowadays you can’t turn around without seeing a Starbucks, Costa or Pret inviting you in for some overpriced ground beans in hot water, with some mood lighting and music for added ambience.

But the question is whether all this caffeine is actually good for our health or could it be stopping us from losing weight?

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a black Americano most days and often recommend it to my clients to have before a training session. But as with anything relating to exercise and nutrition, it’s important to me to keep up to date with the latest studies, so I did a bit of research on the topic. I was curious about whether the time of day and the amount could have any significant impact.

The facts

Caffeine, in its most common form of coffee or tea, is the most consumed and sociably accepted drug across the world with 87% of the population consuming it in some form at an average of 193 mg/day  (Frary et al., 2005). It’s not surprising that coffee is one of the fastest growing imports to the UK.

So what is it? Caffeine a naturally occurring plant alkaloid. It is the most widely used neurostimulant, being present in coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate, analgesics (pain-killing drugs), and dietary supplements (Hum Brain Mapp. 2009). It’s deemed to be the most common drug and has a stimulatory anti-sleep compound which is extracted from coffee beans. 

Now for the sciency bit!

Caffeine is classed as a ‘NOOTROPIC’ because it activates neurons in the brain and provides mental stimulation. It can enter the blood stream within 45-60 minutes and has a half life of between 2-10 hours, depending from person to person.

Caffeine has an effect on adenosine receptors which are located in the brain. These are responsible for sleep, sedation and relaxation and work by inhibiting or suppressing hormones like dopamine and serotonin. At the same time, caffeine promotes the production of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol (also known as the stress hormone) which allow us to stay alert and awake. 

How much do we need?

As a rule of thumb it’s recommended that you take between 3-6mg of caffeine per kg of body weight for your daily intake, however habitual use can lead to tolerance, meaning its effect diminishes. 

Here’s an overview of the effects of caffeine:

Pros Cons Points for consideration
Improved cardiovascular performance Increases blood pressure Can stop sleep
Improved reaction time Feeling of nervousness Can build up tolerance to it
Decreased pain perception ideal pre-workout Heart palpitations Can resensitize to it
Feeling of alertness

Other benefits include reduced risk of several types of cancer, wards off the onset of Alzheimer’s, protects against Parkinson’s disease and has been shown to stimulate hair growth in bald men. 

So does it help us lose weight?

Caffeine is a diuretic and is emptied from our stomach into the blood stream rapidly, so  some short term/immediate weight loss can occur, but the real question is does it help with fat loss?

Well, caffeine does have some metabolic effects and a short term basis, research has demonstrated a 3-16% increase in resting metabolic rate following a 100-400 mg dose. But so does going for a walk or doing some activity and long term studies show that it is does not have an effects on body weight. Just be aware that more is not going to be beneficial and if consumed above your recommended daily intake (RDI) it has possible negative side effects as outlined before. Also note that regular consumption will lead to caffeine tolerance, making its effects less potent.

Take away

So caffeine isn’t the answer to your fat loss goals and it’s not going to help you lose weight, however, it can help you train and improve your gym performance. If you are fitter and stronger and you eat within your recommended calorie intake you will lose weight. So habitual caffeine consumption, in the correct dosages, has some pretty positive effects and the couple of days once in blue moon without a coffee will probably do you some good as well.

But before you rush out to grab a Venti Mocha Frappucino, remember that black coffee is still your best bet and the calorie dense hot drinks with syrups and cream will not get you the results you’re looking for, other than a sugar coma.

The key, as always, is balance and too much of anything isn’t good for you.

Happy sipping and go get a brew on!