Caffeine and Weight Loss: What’s their Relationship?
Caffeine has myriad physiological effects on our body, many of which increase the likelihood of losing weight. Others can prompt the desire to eat more and so, for the body-conscious consumer, some vigilance is required to guard against the possibility of overeating. First, the ‘good news’ for those caffeine users who are hoping to shed some fat.
As a stimulant, caffeine increases the body’s ‘thermogenic’ – ‘heat producing’ – response. Simply put, caffeine increases our metabolic rate and causes us to burn calories at a higher-than-normal rate. Because calories in excess of what we’re able to utilize for basic physiological processes and behavior are stored as fat, a higher-than-normal metabolic rate tends to promote weight loss.
Regular caffeine consumption produces ‘lipolysis’ – which literally means the ‘setting free of fat’. At the level of our physiology, means that triglycerides release fatty acids.
Caffeine also acts to counter a particular class of enzymes – phosphodiesterases – and the net result is an increased level of cyclic adenosine monophosphate, or ‘cAMP’ in bodily tissues. Caffeine-induced increase of cAMP produces two effects that can act as weight-loss aides: It lower’s the level of triglycerides in fat cells, and it increases protein synthesis in muscle cells – just the effect most body-conscious people are hoping to achieve.
Caffeine also acts as a diuretic, flushing retained water out of the system. So the added weight and the ‘puffy’ appearance of retained water are reduced as a result of this effect of the stimulant.
Caffeine’s effects on strength-training efforts also confer special weight loss advantages. In addition to burning calories, strength training increases muscle mass and muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue. What’s more, consuming a safe, specified amount of caffeine prior to a strength-training workout increases the force of muscle contraction, so this high-calorie burning tissue works even harder.
Now for the caveats: Caffeine tends to raise blood sugar levels, which in turn prompts a release of insulin from the pancreas. Insulin facilitates the storage of excess glucose as fat. So if your blood glucose levels are high when you’re consuming caffeine, some of that glucose is going to get stored as fat and a net weight gain might result (only one of several reasons to pass on the iced mocha with whipped cream as your caffeine delivery mechanism of choice…). Higher blood glucose levels can be mitigated by working out after consuming caffeine.
Probably the greatest determinant of whether or not you’ll lose weight with caffeine is what you do with the boost of energy it gives you -- whether you’re sitting still at a café, especially if you’re enjoying a pastry and getting your caffeine in the form of a caramel latte, or taking a well-measured pure caffeine supplement and then going for a run, dancing, or exercising in one way or another. The later activities are obviously going to burn more calories whether one is consuming caffeine or not, but caffeine is also likely to increase the length and/or intensity of one’s work out, resulting in an even greater loss of calories.
There’s one more fun fact about caffeine’s effects on weight loss. If you’re following a low-carbohydrate diet – one of quickest and most popular ways to lose weight – you’ll want to consider that coffee is not a carbohydrate-free way to consume caffeine. Even black coffee contains about 2 grams of carbohydrates per 16 oz. cup. This seems like a trivial amount – unless you consider that, in the initial phase of the classic low-carbohydrate regime, the Atkin’s diet, carbohydrate intake is restricted to 10 to 12 grams per day. Following this plan, one cup of black coffee in the morning and another mid-afternoon takes 1/3 of your carbohydrate allowance for the day!
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