Good To Know: Coffee
Myth: It is often suggested that caffeine from food sources such as coffee, tea, or even chocolate causes dehydration and its consumption should be avoided or significantly reduced to maintain fluid balance when playing outdoors.
Fact: An estimated 1.6 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day, so many outdoor enthusiasts want to know, once and for all, whether or not drinking coffee contributes to our daily fluid intake requirement, or if it causes low-level chronic dehydration.
A recent study from the University of Birmingham in the UK directly compared the effects of a moderate intake of coffee in caffeine-habituated adults against equal amounts of water across a wide range of hydration markers. The team concluded that caffeine had absolutely no influence on your hydration status. Coffee does not prompt the body to flush out fluid—in fact, moderate coffee consumption (three to six cups per day!) provides similar hydrating qualities to water. Moreover, if you drink coffee regularly, you can develop a tolerance to any of the potential diuretic effects of coffee.
A moderate dose of caffeine may also help improve your performance. Drinking coffee before a workout has been shown to increase oxygen uptake and energy expenditure without increasing your perceived exertion. Not such a bad way to add a little spring to your step when you have been out on the trail all day.
Among everyday coffee drinkers—those of us who routinely enjoy a double espresso or the daily roast over ice each day—the old myth that coffee will lead to dehydration is really just that: a myth. So don’t forgo that cup of Joe before you crawl out of your tent in the morning or wake up early for a long bike-ride because you have no reason to endure the day without that ritualistic bolt of caffeine.
Just be aware that too much caffeine can lead to jitters and sleep interruptions, so limit coffee or tea consumption to moderate levels when hiking or backpacking if you want to get a good night’s sleep or don’t want to be edgy during the day. And water is still the best remedy for rehydrating after your fluid stores have been depleted.
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