Why Drinking Caffeine All Day Isn't the Best Way to Stay Energized

Read on for the truth about the "energy" we get from caffeine, healthy ways to enjoy caffeine and ways to have consistent energy throughout the day.

a photo of a glass of iced coffee with milk
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That bold cup of morning coffee we can't live without or the mug of hot tea we rely on to aid an afternoon slump may provide us with a quick mood-boost, but exclusively relying on caffeinated beverages is not the solution for garnering sustained energy throughout the day. Drinking caffeine as a means of gaining energy is not only unrealistic, but it's also a lifestyle habit that can potentially have long- and short-term negative effects, both physically and mentally.

Read on to understand what we really get from drinking caffeinated beverages, how our bodies truly garner lasting energy, healthy ways to incorporate caffeine, and other effective methods for maintaining consistent energy levels throughout the day.

Our Bodies Can Only Get Energy from Calories

We talk, hear and read a lot about calories in our society. It's a constantly trending topic, but it's important to understand what a calorie actually is in order to understand why our body can only get energy from calories, and not caffeine. We can only get energy from calories because a calorie is, by definition, a unit of energy. According to Kelsey Kunik, RDN, nutrition advisor for Zenmaster Wellness, "The only way to provide your body with long-lasting energy is by eating regular balanced meals. Your body uses the calories from food to create energy in your body, and when it comes to calories, coffee and tea have close to zero."

While a calorie is a unit of energy, caffeine is a stimulant. Stimulants raise the levels of nervous activity in the body, harboring a bodily reaction which is that trademark caffeine boost we experience temporarily upon consumption. "If you rely on coffee as breakfast, you'll likely experience a caffeine crash, where the stimulant effect wears off and you're left feeling fatigued from a lack of actual energy from food," Kunik adds. This is why our bodies can't actually get true and lasting energy from caffeine.

The "Energy" from Caffeine Won't Last Long

There's a reason stimulants are also referred to as "uppers." According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, stimulants are a class of drugs that speed up messages traveling between the brain and body. This can make someone feel more awake, alert and energetic. This also helps caffeine increase the activity in your brain and nervous system. When you consume it, receptors in the brain that mediate bodily functions, such as sleep, become temporarily blocked. That quick boost we get from drinking a cup of coffee or tea may provide a temporary feeling of being refreshed and focused, but what goes up must come down.

In other words, caffeine is like an energy crutch or Band-Aid, and the subsequent crash can hit fast and furious. This is because once your body fully metabolizes the caffeine, your feelings of tiredness will return, with a possible extra wave of exhaustion that has been building up beneath the caffeine Band-Aid applied just hours before.

The Potential Negative Effects of Caffeine

If you've ever laid in bed at night, eyes wide open and thoughts racing as you stare at the ceiling cursing that 5 p.m. cup of coffee, you understand the negative impact caffeine can have on a good night's rest. Large doses of stimulants such as caffeine can cause overstimulation, resulting in headaches, intestinal issues, paranoia and insomnia. "Coffee is a stimulant, so it is essentially disrupting homeostasis in the body—particularly the central nervous system—which can cause negative effects such as anxiety, muscle twitches or feeling jittery, irregular heart rate, poor sleep quality and irregular bowel movements," adds Jessica Stanzione, a nutritional therapy practitioner at Jessica Stanzione, NTP.

The Potential Benefits of Caffeine

The good news is that drinking coffee and other caffeinated beverages can provide certain health benefits, and it does provide a quick pick-me-up when you're in a pinch and need to focus. Kunik reminds us that "coffee can give you the extra boost you need to get up in the morning, start a productive day or power through a workout. While using coffee for its stimulating effects is OK, it's important not to rely solely on coffee for energy."

There are also other options if you are sensitive to caffeine. Kunik suggests swapping bold coffee for grounding green tea, which contains "around 25% of the amount of caffeine as coffee, and also includes a compound called L-theanine, which works with caffeine to give you a calmer, more focused energizing experience."

Tips for Including Caffeine in a Healthy Way

When to Consume Caffeine

It's best to consume caffeine early in the day, allowing your body to metabolize it so that by the time you're winding down for the day and getting ready to sleep, the stimulant is no longer coursing through your system. "Including coffee with a balanced breakfast, limiting yourself to one to two cups a day, and only drinking it during the morning hours are all great ways to include coffee in a healthy way," says Kunik.

How to Consume Caffeine

When it comes to caffeinated beverages, quantity matters. Sticking to at most 300 or 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is considered safe for most healthy adults, according to Mayo Clinic. This is roughly the amount of caffeine in four 8-ounce cups of coffee.

In addition, Stanzione advises us to avoid consuming caffeine on an empty stomach. "Include a good amount of protein in your breakfast for energy instead of relying on the caffeine from coffee, and avoid adding sugar to your coffee [if you can go without]," says Stanzione.

Other Methods for Sustainable Energy

Enjoy that cup of morning coffee you love so much, and the boost that comes with it. However, now that you know it will wear off and why, you can plan ahead for other ways to energize. When it comes to maintaining consistent and lasting energy, Stanzione suggests ensuring that you are getting enough protein in your diet, especially upon waking before a busy day ahead. It is equally important to pair sources of protein with ample complex carbs from foods like vegetables, whole grains, fruits and legumes to support consistent energy levels throughout the day. And add in some healthy fat from foods like avocados, nuts, seeds and plant oils to help you meals feel more satisfying.

Kunik stands by consuming a balance of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats at regular intervals throughout the day for long-lasting energy. This, in combination with daily movement, adequate sleep and adequate water intake each day can result in feeling a natural, strong and balanced sense of energy each day.

The Bottom Line

As it is so often said, all things in moderation. While we should all feel free to not only consume, but also enjoy our beloved cup (or two) of morning coffee, it's best not to rely on caffeinated beverages to sustain our energy levels throughout the day. It's not only an impossibility, but it can also prove to be unhealthy over time. To be proactive and efficient in feeling energized for the day:

  • Consume the recommended amount of caffeine (up to 400 mg) early in the day. If you experience negative side effects from coffee, try something less caffeinated like green tea, chai tea or kombucha.
  • Eat a breakfast rich in protein, complex carbs and healthy fats before having coffee or tea.
  • Consume balanced, nutrient-dense snacks and meals at regular intervals throughout the day to garner true and lasting energy.
  • Understand that those coffee and tea breaks are not actually energizing you. They are just providing a temporary boost. Avoid a crash by consuming healthy, nutrient-dense calories in conjunction with caffeine.
  • Don't feel guilt or a sense of shame or fear about drinking caffeine. Enjoy it for the temporary boost it offers, and incorporate other habits into your life as well to remain strong and energized for the long run!
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