What's in Your Coffee: The Rules of Coffee and Fat Loss

I’m always puzzled by people who feel guilty for drinking coffee.

“I’m giving up coffee for Lent.”
“I’m trying to quit drinking coffee.”

There are as many different opinions on coffee – Should you or shouldn’t you drink it? What kind is best?  How much is too much? – as there are Starbucks in America. (Which is to say: a lot, although here in North Carolina, we could use a few more.)

While I clearly have nothin’ but hardcore LOVE for my morning cup of coffee, I’ve also learned through trial and error how to drink it so that it DOESN’T become  a problem.

Coffee is like anything else: it can be enjoyed in moderation, or it can be abused and become a crutch.

The bottom line with coffee (as with all foods and beverages) is this:

Does it work for YOU?

The Rules of Coffee and Fat Loss:

1. Just like fat loss, caffeine intake is individual.

Everyone metabolizes coffee differently. One size does not fit all.

I have clients who can’t drink coffee or any caffeinated drinks after noon or it keeps them up all night. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have freaks like me who can drink a fully-leaded Americano (espresso and water) or coffee and go right to sleep an hour later, sleep soundly through the night, and wake up with no issue whatsoever.

For some people, coffee can slow fat loss and/or trigger cravings or overeating.  Caffeine increases stress hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol, and coffee consumption by those already prone to high stress can put them even further out of hormonal balance.

2. What you put in your coffee matters.

Nothing will raise insulin levels faster than 16 oz. of sweetened milky coffee topped with whipped cream and caramel drizzle.

When insulin levels are high, your body is in fat storage mode.  Think of your fat cells like little storage tanks. Insulin tells the body, "Fill 'em up!" and pushes sugar into the cells for storage as sugar or fat.

Insulin levels can remain elevated for 2-3 hours after consuming sugar or a high calorie meal. To burn stored fat, insulin needs to be turned DOWN. Now…do you still want that Caramel Macchiato before/after your workout?

Study after study proves that coffee by itself can have many health benefits, but what you can put IN your coffee can make or break it.

  • Prefer half & half? Go organic to avoid the hormone rbST (recombinant bovine somatrophin.) It is injected into cows to increase milk production, but it also increases the cows' risk of infections, which are then treated by powerful antibiotics that are transferred to YOU when you drink the milk. If you're choosing dairy, organic is best.
  • Lactose intolerant and just can't do dairy? Skip the sketchy non-dairy creamers like Coffee Mate. They are loaded with JUNK: sugar from corn syrup solids and trans fats from partially hydrogenated oil. NutPods or Califia Farms coffee creamers are an awesome alternative made from coconut and almond milk. They make your coffee creamy without a drop of dairy. 
  • "Bulletproof" coffee is coffee mixed with coconut oil or MCT oil, or even grass-fed butter. It may sound crazy at first, but many people swear by it for boosting athletic performance and promoting brain function. I've been known to enjoy a mug of Bulletproof coffee from time to time, usually when I'm not super hungry in the morning and want to make my coffee more substantial and eat later.

Which option should you choose? Refer back to the BIG BOLD WORDS above: "Do What Works For You."

NOTICE: there is no sugar, Splenda, or other sweeteners (real or artificial) on this list of good things to put in your coffee and that's because zero-calorie sweeteners affect everyone differently.

Use Stevia or Monk Fruit Extract if you must, need, absolutely can't live without sweetener in your coffee. These are more natural alternative sweeteners that won't have the same crash & burn effect as real sugar. 

There's one caveat though. Even though a sweetener has no calories, it can still trigger increased hunger and cravings. For some of our clients, using a little Stevia in their diet instead of real sugar keeps them satisfied and works great. For others, just the taste of sweetness - even though there are no calories - keeps them in the struggle and triggers cravings for more sweets for the rest of the day. 

So if you're a "Skinny" Vanilla or Caramel Latte kinda girl and think you're cheating the system with sugar-free syrups, it's important that you monitor two things after your morning candy-coffee (lol):

How are your appetite and cravings?

How are your results?

Just because it is calorie-free does not mean it is necessarily good for fat loss.

3. Black coffee before a workout can boost fat loss.

There is some research that shows fasted workouts (training on an empty stomach with only BCAAs [branched chain amino acids] and/or a good strong cup of black coffee) can help your body use fat stores to fuel your workout. It works best with HIIT workouts like sprints. 

The jury is still out on this.

From my personal experience, I know several fellow fitness pros who swear by morning fasted cardio (HIIT: high intensity interval training) with black coffee to help them lean out. 

This may not work for everyone, and some people really do perform better with a small meal before a workout. If training on coffee and an empty stomach doesn’t work for you, there are plenty of other ways to optimize fat loss.

4. Don’t drink your calories – especially “fat-free dairy” ones.

“Skinny Lattes” are not going to make you skinny, in fact, they may be contributing to making you fat.

Milk is naturally high in sugar (lactose is the naturally-occurring sugar found in milk.)  Drinking milk – which contains both sugar AND protein – causes a spike in insulin, a fat-storing hormone I mentioned above.

Some people can drink milk without stalling their fat loss results. However, if you are still consuming milk regularly and cannot seem to get leaner, removing cow’s milk from the diet is one place to start.

Many people notice improved results by switching from cow’s milk to almond milk or coconut milk, but still leave room in their diet for dairy foods like grass-fed butter, fermented foods like yogurt and kefir, and organic half & half. The only way to know for sure is trial and error. Try something for a few weeks, track how you feel, track your results. There’s your answer.

Going skim/non-fat doesn’t solve the problem because the problem with dairy isn’t the fat. It’s the sugar. 

Some other far-less-significant, but still-perhaps-interesting notes given my passion for coffee:

  • I brew coffee at home almost every day now, as opposed to my DC days when my morning visit to Starbucks or a local coffee shop was a daily occurrence. I realized that by going to a coffee shop, I was setting myself up for failure because I would have to rely on SO MUCH willpower to NOT get a sugary, high-carb pastry to go with my coffee. By staying out of the coffee shop altogether and brewing coffee at home, I am much more likely to have eggs with veggies, a protein smoothie, or protein pancakes.
  • I love the ritual of preparing coffee: grinding the beans, smelling the fresh grounds, listening to the coffee maker gurgle, picking out which mug I'll use. But even with all of that, I rarely finish one mug of coffee.  The first few sips are heavenly, but then I usually get sucked into writing or responding to emails. Sometimes I reheat it in the microwave:)
  • I either use a splash of organic half & half in my coffee, or I drink it black.  I've come a long way, because my favorite drink used to be a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato, inspired partly (okay, A LOT) by Meg Ryan's character in "You've Got Mail."  I loved that movie, and thought that drinking Meg Ryan's character's drink would make me just as adorable as her. That didn't work out, and neither did my attempt at copying her haircut.
  • To quit sweetening my coffee, I didn't go cold turkey; I weaned myself off sugar in my coffee over time - and it was one of the best decisions I've ever made.  I did not switch to Splenda, because artificial sweeteners - although calorie-free - could be just as bad for us, if not worse than, real sugar. I started asking the barista for 1 1/2 pumps of syrup instead of 3 (the number of syrup pumps in a tall Starbucks beverage) with the goal of changing my palate to be satisfied with less sweetness in foods and drinks.  Once I got used to 1 1/2 pumps, I went down to 1 pump, then I switched to plain lattes and discovered that for the first time, I could actually TASTE the espresso itself - and I liked it.

I hope these tips answer some of the myths and questions surrounding coffee and help you have a more energized morning. Are you a coffee drinker? How do you take your coffee?  Tell us below!