Coffee is one of the world’s most popular beverages and contains a very popular stimulant called caffeine.
Many people reach for a cup of this caffeinated beverage immediately after rising, whereas others believe it’s more beneficial to hold off for a few hours.
This article explains when the best time to drink coffee is to maximize its benefits and minimize its side effects.
Cortisol and coffee
Many people enjoy a cup — or three — of coffee upon rising or shortly after that.
However, it’s thought that drinking coffee too soon after rising decreases its energizing effects, as your stress hormone cortisol is at its peak level at this time.
Cortisol is a hormone that can enhance alertness and focus. It also regulates your metabolism, immune system response, and blood pressure.
The hormone follows a rhythm specific to your sleep-wake cycle, with high levels that peak 30–45 minutes after rising and slowly decline throughout the rest of the day.
It has been suggested that the best time to drink coffee is mid- to late-morning when your cortisol level is lower.
For most people who get up around 6:30 a.m., this time is between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m.
While there may be some truth, no studies have observed any superior energizing effects with delaying your morning coffee compared with drinking it immediately upon rising.
Another reason why it has been suggested that you should delay your morning coffee is that the caffeine from coffee can increase cortisol levels.
Drinking coffee when your cortisol level is at its peak may further increase levels of this hormone. Elevated cortisol levels over long periods can impair your immune system, causing health problems.
Still, there have been no long-term studies on the health implications of elevated cortisol from drinking coffee.
Moreover, caffeine-induced increases in cortisol tend to be reduced in people who regularly consume caffeine.
That said, there’s likely no harm if you prefer to drink coffee upon rising rather than several hours after.
But if you’re willing to change your morning coffee ritual, you may find that delaying your coffee intake a few hours may give you more energy.
Summary: The best time to drink coffee is thought to be 9:30–11:30 a.m., when most people’s cortisol level is lower. Whether this is true remains to be determined. Caffeine can increase cortisol, but the long-term health implications of this are unknown.
Coffee can boost exercise performance
Coffee is known for its ability to promote wakefulness and increase alertness, but the beverage is also an effective exercise performance enhancer because of its caffeine content.
Plus, coffee can be a much cheaper alternative to caffeine-containing supplements like pre-workout powders.
Several studies have demonstrated that caffeine can delay exercise fatigue and improve muscle strength and power.
While it may not make a significant difference whether you choose to enjoy your coffee upon rising or several hours after that, the effects of the caffeine from coffee on exercise performance are time-dependent.
To optimize coffee’s beneficial effects on exercise performance, it’s best to consume the beverage 30–60 minutes before a workout or sporting event.
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This is the time it takes caffeine levels to peak in your body.
The effective dose of caffeine for improving exercise performance is 1.4–2.7 mg per pound (3–6 mg per kg) of body weight.
For a 150-pound (68-kg) person, this equates to about 200–400 mg of caffeine or 2–4 cups (475–950 mL) of coffee.
Summary: The exercise performance benefits of caffeine from coffee can be experienced within 30–60 minutes of drinking the beverage.
Anxiety and sleep problems
Caffeine in coffee can promote wakefulness and increase exercise performance, but it can also cause problems with sleep and anxiety in some people.
The stimulating effects of caffeine from coffee last 3–5 hours, and depending on individual differences, about half of the total caffeine you consume remains in your body after 5 hours.
Consuming coffee too close to bedtime, such as with dinner, can cause sleeping problems.
To avoid caffeine’s disruptive effects on sleep, it’s recommended to avoid consuming caffeine for a minimum of 6 hours before bed.
In addition to sleep problems, caffeine can increase anxiety in some people.
If you have anxiety, you may find that drinking coffee makes it worse, in which case, you may need to consume less or avoid the beverage altogether.
You can also try switching to green tea, which contains one-third of the caffeine in coffee.
Suggested read: Coffee and caffeine — How much should you drink?
The beverage also provides the amino acid L-theanine, which has relaxing and calming properties.
Summary: Caffeine can cause sleep problems when consumed too close to bedtime. The stimulant may also increase anxiety in some people.
How much coffee is safe?
Healthy individuals can consume up to 400 mg of caffeine daily — about 4 cups (950 mL) of coffee.
Pregnant and nursing women recommend 300 mg of caffeine daily, with some research suggesting that the safe upper limit is 200 mg daily.
These recommendations for safe caffeine intake include caffeine from all sources.
Other common sources of caffeine include tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, and even dark chocolate.
Summary: Healthy adults can consume up to 400 mg of caffeine per day, whereas pregnant and nursing women can safely consume up to 300 mg per day, with some research suggesting that 200 mg is the safe limit.
Coffee is a popular beverage that’s enjoyed throughout the world.
It has been suggested that the best time to drink coffee is in the morning when your cortisol level is lower, but research on this topic is lacking.
Consuming coffee 30–60 minutes before your workout or sporting event can help delay fatigue and increase muscle strength and power.
Keep in mind that the stimulating effects of caffeine from coffee can cause sleep problems if consumed too close to bedtime, as well as increase anxiety in some people.