Optimize your caffeine intake

How the stimulant affects your heart, mood, and workouts

Your morning coffee does more than help you start your day. A growing stack of research reveals that caffeine can influence your mood, your organs, and your workout. Here, four surprising ways the stimulant affects your body—and how you can use it to your advantage.

It can set you up for headaches.
When you consume too much caffeine, you can develop a dependency, explains Carolyn Bernstein, MD, author of The Migraine Brain. Not getting your usual dose—say, you skip your usual afternoon latte—can cause your head to pound. Try to stick with one cup a day.

It can boost heart health.
Research shows that sipping coffee reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Experts chalk up this protection to its antioxidants, such as polyphenols, and chemicals that increase the antioxidant function of your own cells, including caffeine, says Kwang Suk Ko, Ph.D., assistant professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, Korea. For the biggest benefit, brew a light roast, which contains more caffeine and polyphenols than darker varieties.

It can cause anxiety.
Too much caffeine can overstimulate your nervous system, leaving you feeling stressed—especially after age 30. To avoid it, swap your Joe for a cup of green tea or matcha. These drinks contain an amino acid called L-theanine, which has a calming effect.

It can enhance your workout.
Caffeine can help you power through a long run or ride. A study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise showed that it reduces perceived effort during aerobic workouts, making exercise more enjoyable. Have three milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight about an hour before you start, suggests Adriano E. Lima-Silva, Ph.D., an adjunct professor with the human performance research group at Technological Federal University of Paraná in Brazil. But save it for races or a tough session. Do it too often, and you may become desensitized to caffeine’s effects.

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