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Does coffee really give you more energy?

Young man drinks coffee in a cafe
The caffeine in coffee stimulates our nervous system, speeding up the transmission of messages between our brain and body.

Queensland, how do you have your coffee? No matter your order, for many of us coffee is a daily ritual we wouldn’t go without.

If you can’t imagine kicking off the day without a flat white or two, you might swear by the energy boost that your coffee brings.

But does coffee actually give us a pick-me-up? Let us explain over a cuppa.

How coffee gives us a buzz

Yep, it’s true - coffee can make us feel more energised, and we’ve got caffeine to thank for that. Caffeine is found in a range of plants that are used to produce coffee, black and green tea, and cocoa. It’s also found in many cola soft drinks and energy drinks, but it’s best not to get your caffeine buzz from these products as the often very high sugar content outweighs any other benefits.

Caffeine is a mild stimulant that speeds up the messages between our brain and body. In small doses, and as part of a healthy diet it can make us feel more awake and alert. The Australian Dietary Guidelines includes 1-2 small coffees (200ml) as part of a healthy daily meal plan for the average adult (aged 19-50).

We typically start to feel the effects of our coffee’s caffeine within 5-30 minutes of drinking it, and the effects can last for up to 12 hours. However, the effects we feel depend on many individual factors like our body mass, metabolism, and caffeine tolerance. For someone who rarely drinks caffeinated beverages or is more sensitive to caffeine, a small dose can have a big effect. On the other hand, regular coffee drinkers may find that they need increasingly stronger coffees to get the same energy boost that they used to feel.

For most healthy adults, who have a healthy balanced diet and enjoy regular physical activity, 400mg of caffeine per day is generally considered safe. That’s around 2-3 espresso shots or five teaspoons of instant coffee across the day, keeping in mind that the caffeine content of different products varies widely.

Remember to avoid added sugar and syrups when enjoying your daily grind to maximise health benefits and keep your daily sugar intake to a minimum.

Three women talking over a coffee at home

Hooked on the daily cuppa

Like many drugs, it is possible to become dependent on caffeine. If you miss out on your usual coffee, you might start to feel the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, including headaches, irritability, tiredness, and muscle pain. A habitual coffee drinker who stops drinking it altogether might find these symptoms last for up to a week.

Fortunately, these symptoms only occur when we completely cut out caffeine. If you’re looking at lowering your coffee intake, slowly reduce the number of caffeinated drinks you have each day, or their strength.

Too much of a good thing

As much as we might enjoy the focus that comes from a coffee hit, going overboard has the opposite effect. Excessive caffeine intake can leave us feeling jittery, unfocused, and even anxious. It can also lead to an increased heart rate and breathing rate.

If you’ve got a health condition and caffeine makes your symptoms worse, it might be time to switch to decaf coffees – or better yet, water - as decaf coffee still contains some caffeine.

For pregnant women, and women who are breastfeeding, a lower level of caffeine intake is recommended – aim for 200mg per day or less. However it’s best to talk to your doctor or health professional if you have any concerns. While there are no caffeine guidelines for children, coffee or caffeinated beverages would not be recommended for very young children and it’s recommended parents keep an eye on their older or teenage children’s coffee intake. Water should always be offered as the drink of choice.

Otherwise, we can all enjoy our daily coffee with peace of mind – it can be a part of a healthy diet.

Last updated: 2 July 2019