Tea and coffee are the most consumed beverages in the world after water.  Many have grown to love the taste, but also describe a dependence on the caffeine jolt these drinks provide.

Morning (and sometimes afternoon and evening) routine aside, does caffeine provide any athletic performance benefits, and is it even healthy?

Numerous studies have been done on caffeine and performance and studies indicate caffeine consumed approximately one hour pre-workout can increase performance by about 12% and decrease perceived effort by about 6%. These positive findings are related more to endurance efforts as opposed to shorter, maximal exertion ones. The amount of caffeine required for this outcome varies, but generally ranges between the equivalent of one to three cups of coffee being sufficient (more is not always better!). Every person has an individual tolerance, so trial and error is needed.

Caffeine helps increase performance in part by increasing adrenaline levels and therefore also increases cortisol levels. This is not an advisable situation for those who are already living in a high stress environment and have trouble sleeping.

There are now a multitude of studies indicating that coffee can have health benefits, including: decrease risk of heart disease and cancer, lower reported depression and anxiety, lower risk of type II diabetes, and decreased prevalence of mental disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Also, coffee is a strong source of antioxidants.

It needs to be noted that too much of a good thing is generally never a good thing. Caffeine can disrupt sleep patterns and increase stress hormones. For this reason, it shouldn’t be consumed past early afternoon and your daily amount should be limited to a few cups. Pregnant women and those with certain health conditions need to be mindful of caffeine’s effects.

If coffee is the beverage of choice, an effort can be made to purchase high quality (free trade, organic) beans of prepared product. Note that many of the health benefits are negated if coffee or tea is taken with a lot of sugar, milk, cream or other ingredients. A popular Frappuccino drink can run as high as 500 calories! Be very wary of energy drinks and other forms of caffeine as they might be mixed with other potentially dangerous ingredients.