By Kevin Kolodziejski
Just before the start of an early stage of the 2015 Vuelta a España, a Global Cycling Network journalist asked Lawson Craddock how much coffee he had consumed so far that day. The Team Giant-Alpecin rider answered, “Maybe a cup, one or two cups.”
He then explained in a matter-of-fact tone — and somehow with a straight face — that the amount would increase for him and the peloton as the race progressed. That by the time the commissaire stuck his arm out of the lead car’s sunroof and waved the flag to start an especially tough stage, like 15 or 16, they all “might be pulling in a solid gallon” a day.
What Craddock’s pulling here is the journalist’s leg. Maybe even both of them. He pulls no punches, though, when he explains. “That’s just how cyclists work. [We’re] addicted to coffee.”
If that’s true for you — if you’re so hooked you can’t imagine facing any day or doing any type of ride without the caffeine from three or four cups of the stuff racing through your veins — don’t stress out. While java junkies may jones for the stuff as if they’re addicted to hardcore drugs, you’re never really quite as strung out. An overindulgence for you leads to jitters, not jail time. Or insomnia, not the deepest sleep that closes your eyes for good.
In fact, habitual coffee consumption is more akin to habitual bike riding: a mostly positive addiction.
Coffee: A Mostly Positive Addiction
But daily coffee drinking wasn’t viewed favorably in the early 1970s. At least by most doctors. Back then, my parents regularly chugged three to four big mugs of the stuff each workday, and both were told by their GP in no uncertain terms to give up the habit when they developed high blood pressure. That their coffee drinking was a big part of their HBP. So they did. Studies after that, though, questioned the doc’s diagnosis and demand.
Enough so that by 2012 a meta-analysis in the Journal of Hypertension reported no “statistically significant” evidence that coffee consumption increased the risk of HBP. Yet this did not lead to the researchers rejecting the long-held belief that coffee consumption increased blood pressure. The conclusion of the paper was neither “for or against coffee consumption as it relates to blood pressure and hypertension.”
More Ammo for Coffee’s 180
Such ambivalence seemed a bit foolish two years later when a meta-analysis published in Circulation determined that drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day was not linked to any sort of cardiovascular disease — but was “inversely associated” with it. In other words, drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day actually made you less likely to get any sort of CVD.
More recently, researchers took a second look at the Brisighella Heart Study that began about the time the doc told my parents daily joe was a definite no-no. Their review of it, published in the January 2023 issue of Nutrients, found that those consuming more than 2 cups of coffee per day had a 5-point lower blood pressure reading on average — and that those who drank even more on a daily basis lowered their BP another 4 points.
An assessment of this study by Dr. Jim Liu, a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, shows that over the course of about 50 years coffee’s rep has done a 180. He tells Healthline, “If anything, moderate coffee consumption [4 to 5 cups] may help with blood pressure.”
But coffee’s recent, mostly-good-for-you rep has come to be not only because it can lower HBP. Other studies have linked it to additional health benefits that ultimately lead to a longer lifespan.
Coffee’s Link to Longer Lifespan
One published in 2015 by Circulation and done with 200,000 participants over 30 years revealed that those who consumed 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day were 15 percent less likely to die from any cause, not just the heart disease which so often begins with HBP. A 2018 study published in JAMA followed more than 500,000 people for about 10 years revealed that those heavily reliant on joe — those who consumed 6 to 7 cups a day — were 16 percent less likely to die when compared to those who don’t drink coffee at all.
Impressive stats — especially when they also show the addicting substance in coffee, caffeine, only plays a secondary role in creating the health benefits.
Drink Decafe: Avoid Addiction
If being addicted to anything other than cycling is an anathema to you, drinking decaffeinated coffee is the thing to do. Both aforementioned studies included decafe drinkers, suggesting that while it’s the caffeine that does the hooking, it’s the thousands of phytochemical found in coffee that really do a body good. One specific type, polyphenols, has been linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, overall body inflammation, and, yes, heart disease.
The Caffeine Caveat
It would be a bit irresponsible — or testament to the degree of my addiction — to end without mentioning some people don’t tolerate coffee very well. That if some people started their day with 6 cups of a dark-roasted, half-caff blend on an empty stomach as I do, they’d get more than a productive writing session followed by a fine ride. They’d get restless, anxious, an increased heart rate well before and during an erratic workout, and experience less-than-restful sleep at night.
But most people handle the caffeine equivalent to 3, 8-ounce cups of coffee really well, well enough so that you’ll find articles like “9 Reasons Why (the Right Amount of) Coffee Is Good For You” all over the internet.
Coffee’s Perks, as per Johns Hopkins
So embrace the 180, drink up, and experience what the nutrition experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine say coffee can do for you: help your liver; better maintain your DNA; reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. And increase your odds of living longer.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.