“Most recently, research has also found caffeine may help lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and some cancers,” says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Dubin Breast Center in New York City.
Of course, caffeine can also have some harmful effects. Especially if you don’t use the substance wisely. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine showed that consuming coffee after 5 p.m. (or six hours before you hit the sack) may disrupt your body’s natural sleep cycle, leading to a restless night and fatigue the next day.
So how exactly should the average person consume caffeine? Here are some tips for getting the most out of your daily caffeine boost.
#1 Choose Coffee Whenever Possible
It can be tough to separate caffeine’s effects from its perpetual buddy: coffee. “Much of the research on caffeine has been specifically done using coffee, which is a potent antioxidant,” says Hogan. “It is likely that a lot of the health benefits found in research may be due in part to these antioxidant properties and not just the caffeine alone.”
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sipping coffee over other caffeine sources is still a great, health-conscious choice. “Unless we consume coffee with a ton of sugar, it also has no added sugar compared to sodas or energy drinks, which are loaded with it,” says Hogan. And when imbibed in addition to your daily water-consumption goal, it can help keep you hydrated.
#2 Keep Caffeine Consumption Within the “Safe” Guidelines
Stick to roughly 300 or 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, or about four eight-ounce cups, says Hogan, which “appears safe for generally healthy people.” After that, you might experience some unfortunate side effects. “Too much caffeine can cause jitteriness and anxiety and have profound effects on sleep and quality of sleep,” says Hogan. “It can also cause stomach upset in some people.”
#3: Consume Caffeine in the Morning or Before Exercise
As a known stimulant, caffeine is effective for increasing alertness, which is great in certain instances—like to start your morning or boost a workout. Just make sure you’re not boosting your alertness while killing other components of your health, like sleep. “I typically encourage most people to cut caffeine intake after twelve or one p.m., and have found this helps promote better quality of sleep,” says Hogan.
Caffeine has been studied as an effective performance-enhancing aid in endurance athletics, making it a good go-to for highly active people. “Athletes can benefit from a caffeine boost before a workout or race,” says Hogan. “About a cup or two of coffee—roughly 100 to 200 milligrams of caffeine—tends to be the sweet spot for most people.”
Although caffeine is a diuretic, Hogan says it’s not too dehydrating to sip before your gym time. “A bigger risk could be negative effects on the GI system,” she explains. “It’s important to give the body a bit of time after caffeine consumption, say about an hour, before starting a workout or race.” Just monitor its effects on your own body, since those will be “highly individual.”
#4 Don’t Be Afraid to Cut Back
Despite its benefits, caffeine is still a substance with side effects. You should clue your doctor into your typical consumption, especially if you have a sensitive stomach or cardiovascular issues.
Coffee or caffeine usually is best served up as part of a routine, says Hogan, so “if you can’t regularly have coffee in the morning,” because it upsets your stomach or you simply don’t always have access to it, “giving up caffeine may lead to a better quality of life.”
You can also look into other ways to consume caffeine that you may tolerate better, especially if you’re an athlete looking for an exercise-booster. “Caffeinated gels, chews, and gum are also available and very useful,” says Hogan. So, even if it’s not a caffeinated drink, there might still be a caffeine tool that’s right for you.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.