Coffee and fasting go together like lamb and tuna fish -- obscure reference, but for this particular topic, it sets the stage for a few WTF moments followed by a moment of clarity or two.
Fasting is hot right now, and for good reason -- it has the power to reset our nervous systems, recalibrate our metabolisms and engage our brains for maximal performance. If you could leverage something that you probably already drink to get all of these incredible benefits, wouldn’t you jump at that chance? I am going to make a bunch of science based points, along with some marginally relevant puns and pop culture references -- if you don’t have time for my shenanigans, skip to the bottom; I’ll provide a bonus set of 3 actionable programs we’re going to collectively call #THECaveBossFast
Does coffee break your fast?
The newest question on the newbie wellness block -- if i do this, will I break my fast? I sneezed when I woke up, did I break my fast? I had a dream about a donut last night, did that break my fast? I ate two bags of flaming hot cheetos and dipped them in cream cheese, what does that do for my fasting protocol? All seem fringe ridiculous, no? A quick search of reddit will yield you two things: a few more gems to add to the list above, and a clear understanding that people are confused about how food affects them, especially when fasting.
There are a few schools of thought on whether coffee breaks your fast, ranging on the scale from the cellular optimization obsessed nerd (me) to the practical individual who just wants to know that their choices lie in the happy medium between abstinence and indulgence.
The definition of fasting is the absence of caloric intake, meaning that you consume zero calories and thus your body does not have to metabolize any substances. So if you are playing only in black and whites -- then anything with any calories, regardless of how small, would break your fast. Coffee, though touted as a calorie-free beverage, does contain trace amounts of calories -- in the range of 2-12 calories per cup. Those calories are made up of carbohydrates and protein, but with both of those macronutrients coming in at 4 calories/gram, you can imagine how little of each are in a serving. It’s also worth mentioning that the way in which the bean is roasted and brewed can have a downstream effect on the caloric content of the final product. The longer a bean is roasted, the lower carbohydrate content it contains (1) -- so it can be said that dark roast beans are lower carb -- but please put that on the same level as the fast-breaking donut dream. The amount of coffee you would have to drink to see a difference in carb content between roasts is astronomical. Brew methods also change the content of the natural oils in the coffee. A drip method with a paper filter will contain less diterpenes (oils released from the grounds that give coffee its aroma and flavor) than say a french press or cold brew.
At Caveman, we keeps it REAL: our labels show the caloric content as it truly is, and it’s not something you should sweat. A single can of our cold brew contains 3g of carbs and 1g of protein summing up to a whopping 14 calories. Transparency is baked into our brand, so if you’ve come across another can of cold brew claiming zero calories, serve them up a cold cup of science and pour it to the curb.
HONEST COLD BREW
So to answer the question, “does black coffee break a fast?” I get to use every wellness truth seeker’s least favorite two word combo: “yes, but”. Coffee does technically break your fast, but it has been shown to have a zero or net positive effect on the major benefits of fasting. The major benefits of fasting include improved glucose metabolism, insulin sensitivity (not as much in the acute sense) and a process called cellular autophagy. That last little process is where the camps split -- are you more interested in the metabolic or anti-aging effects of fasting? Metabolic -- drink your coffee and don’t look back, Anti-aging -- maybe you push that coffee consumption back a few hours after you wake up. According to an interview between Dr. Rhonda Patrick and Dr. Satchin Panda (if you don’t know who they are, do yourself a favor and acquaint yourself with two of the leading SCIENTIFIC voices in wellness), drinking black coffee brings the benefits of fasting into the 40-50% efficacy range in respect to collective benefits of a strict fast. (2) What is interesting is that the polyphenols in coffee actually increase autophagy within 4 hours after consumption. (3) So once again, science provides us a mixed bag of semi-contradictory “yes, buts”. Dr. Panda argues that any sort of metabolic process messes with our circadian rhythm and adds undue stress on our digestive system, which cuts the overall anti-aging benefits of fasting in half.
As for the metabolic effects, coffee has a direct effect on lipolysis (I discussed it in my last article here). When it comes to giving our bodies super powers to utilize stored fat for energy, coffee is ranked pretty high up there. Your body on coffee spares stored glycogen while releasing fats from adipose tissues (4,5). When paired with activity under the anaerobic threshold (think about activity you can do without running out of breath), it becomes a fat burning machine. This term has been called metabolic flexibility, which basically means that your body can burn fat and carbohydrates equally as well based upon physical exertion.
To Fat or Not to Fat
By now, I am sure that you’ve heard of the benefits of putting fat into your coffee -- all the cool kids in Silicon Valley were doing it -- and now you can buy it premade and refrigerated at Whole Foods. It’s funny how science can be bent to meet consumer demand -- add some sugar, a few chemical binders and a cardboard squeeze box and you’ve got something that every kombucha mom is buying for their household -- but I digress, fat has its place in the coffee universe, DEPENDING ON YOUR GOALS.
Adding fat in the form of medium chain triglycerides, butter (or ghee) and/or coconut oil can grease the groove of fat metabolism, but it only works when you are also maintaining control over your caloric intake and limiting your processed carbohydrates. I don’t care who you are, if you are putting 400 calories in your bean juice, and still eating the way you were before, you are going to gain weight, period. BUT, if you are strategic with your fat, then you can leverage its physiological and synergistic effects with coffee like a Cave Boss.
Lets state some facts before I give you the keys to the castle:
- The half life of caffeine is 5-6 hours (meaning that your body metabolises half of the caffeine content in that time period)
- The effective dose for sports performance is 5mg x KG of bodyweight, some are more sensitive than others so be wary (6)
- The max effective dose for cognitive enhancement is 200mg; you are actually less adept at higher intakes -- worse off than no caffeine at all (6)
And we are going to break the program into the two camps (and I’ll add a third) we discussed earlier for morning exercisers:
Ideal process for caffeine consumption for the early morning life-lete
Ideal Process for the keto warrior
Ideal process for the Live to 200 anti-aging biohacker entrepreneur
- (On the way to the gym) Water and a nice cup of self-satisfaction knowing that you’ll outlive everyone you’ve ever loved (joking -- this is my style of workout for low intensity days)
- (3 hours after) 200mg of coffee
The first two processes solve for the optimal caffeine levels based on half life: 3 hours after consumption of 200mg of caffeine, you will have 150ish mg of caffeine in your system, so the addition of 80mg of caffeine via espresso gets you into the range of 200mg of total caffeine by the time you hit the office at 9am (if you head to the gym at 6am).
Coffee can be a huge asset for anyone interested in building fasting into their lifestyle. Depending on who you are and what your goals are, I have given you the tools to take your consumption to the next level. If you aren’t someone that drinks coffee … then ask yourself, why are you here?