While the potential health benefits of coffee are well-known — sharper cognition, lower risk of developing chronic conditions like dementia, and Type 2 diabetes, even a longer lifespan — exactly how coffee might affect your weight-loss plan is a little more complicated. As it turns out, scientists are still sorting out the pros and cons of upping your coffee intake to slim down.
Here’s a quick guide to how your coffee habit might benefit or harm your weight-loss efforts.
Weight loss requires a small calorie deficit (or fewer calories than you burn through day-to-day activities and exercise), and coffee might help tip the scales in your favor. “The caffeine in coffee is an appetite suppressant, so it could curb your hunger between meals,” explains Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD. In fact, drinking coffee half an hour to four hours before a meal may help you eat less than you would otherwise (so your morning coffee has you covered for lunch), according to a review published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. Even better, another small study shows this appetite-reducing effect may even extend to the next day for people who are overweight or living with obesity when they drink a moderate amount of coffee (200ml or 6.7 ounces a day).
If you regularly find yourself ordering a donut or pastry to go with your coffee, it may be because caffeine triggers cravings for sweets by tweaking your perception of sweetness, per a study in the Journal of Food Science. Another problem: Many of us add cream, sugar and flavored syrups to our coffee to offset the bitterness, and that boost in taste can make for a major calorie bomb if you overdo it. That said, coffee is a low-calorie beverage on its own, so healthier options like drinking it black or with just a touch of mix-ins could make it a useful addition to your diet for weight loss, says Kostro Miller.
Upping your physical activity along with a healthy diet can help support weight loss, but if you’re struggling to stick with your exercise plan, consider adding coffee to your pre-workout routine. “Caffeine in coffee has also been shown to boost energy, especially if taken before a workout, allowing you to feel more energized and go harder at the gym,” says Kostro Miller. This is thanks to the stimulating effects of caffeine, which can get your blood pumping, increase muscle strength, endurance and power, and even lower your perception of how hard you’re working. All in all, coffee makes for great fuel for sweat sessions. Still, it’s also important to hydrate with water, says Kostro Miller, and electrolytes are important if you’re exercising for longer than 60 minutes.
READ MORE > THE CONFUSING LINK BETWEEN CAFFEINE AND WEIGHT LOSS
You’ve likely already experienced this firsthand: Coffee can affect you radically different compared to someone else — and that’s thanks to certain genes that determine how your body processes caffeine. While “fast metabolizers” can enjoy as much coffee as they’d like and reap the benefits, “slow metabolizers” may experience the exact opposite: A decrease in athletic performance along with a higher risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and prediabetes. If coffee tends to make you jittery, you might be a slow metabolizer.
THE BOTTOM LINE
“Coffee is fine to consume when you’re trying to lose weight. It can give you energy, it tastes good, and it can be a low-calorie beverage,” says Kostro Miller. Although the effect of caffeine is highly individualized, in general, it’s safe to drink about four cups of coffee per day (or up to 400 milligrams of caffeine). However, make sure to drink plenty of water and never use coffee as a meal replacement, notes Kostro Miller.
While some promising studies suggest caffeine could boost weight loss, it’s important to understand coffee is not a magic bullet. To lose weight, it’s best to lean on tried-and-true weight-loss tactics like creating a slight calorie deficit, eating nutritious whole foods, and engaging in regular movement.
Originally published November 2020, updated November 2022
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