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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.

Has 3 Comments

Comments (3)

  • Maybe I’m just rationalizing my caffeine consumption, but I feel vindicated! I’ve been telling my wife that coffee = water when it comes to hydration, and she wasn’t buying it.

    I’m sending her a link to this post.

    Posted by Jeff Hester on Jun 24, 2014 - Reply
  • I began drinking coffee black, no cream, at age 12 when I would help my dad on weekends with his paper-hanging job. We went to a cafeteria in St. Louis for breakfast and it made me feel so grown up. Now that I am 90 years of age, I still enjoy several cups of coffee the same way with no side effects.

    Posted by William Case on Jul 14, 2014 - Reply
  • Nothing will ever replace that first cup of delicious coffee in the early morning. I also have my espresso machine but I drink it sparingly and usually as a reward for myself during the later day or even early evening. I cannot imagine life without coffee.

    Posted by Jesse James on Sep 14, 2014 - Reply

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