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Runner beans

Every day is International Coffee Day if you ask us. We take a look at the reasons why the magic bean is a favourite among athletes all over the world.

In the mood

Caffeine makes you happy. It enhances dopamine signalling in the brain, which helps to regulate emotional responses, in particular the sense of reward. So drinking a cup before a workout can help you get motivated and also make you feel a greater sense of fulfilment when you’re done.

Coffee contains volatile aroma compounds. The organic compounds evaporate at room temperature and pressure and, when smelled, have been shown to change protein expression levels in the brain, which can help relieve stress.

If you want the best aromas then the place to turn to, according to coffee boffin Ross Nicholson of Schluter Ltd, is Ethiopia, where the bean was first discovered.

“The most aromatic coffee is Ethiopian, just because there are so many varieties. There are thousands of varieties that all grow wild,” Nicholson says.

“They have a really fruity or floral aroma, jasmine, bergamot and citrus – aromas that people wouldn’t always associate with coffee.”

Is it a coincidence that some of the greatest athletes in history hail from the east African nation? You decide.

Get up and go

Caffeine gives you energy. Even Nicholson says that his daily coffee consumption varies “depending on how tired” he is.

When consumed, it causes the brain to increase neuron firing. The pituitary gland releases hormones that, in turn, produce adrenaline.

As adrenaline levels in the blood increase, airways open up, heart rate increases and more blood is diverted to the muscles, while the liver releases sugar into the blood stream for increased energy.

Caffeine also breaks down fat stores, which release fatty acids into the blood stream to be used as fuel, helping you train better for longer. For the biggest caffeine hit, Nicholson recommends turning to Robusta beans.

“Robusta tends to be the bean you find in commercial coffee,” he says. “It has a higher caffeine content, so has a higher stimulant effect.”

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A healthy cup

“One or two coffees a day does appear to have some health benefits,” says Nicholson. He's right.

Coffee contains large amounts of powerful antioxidants. They help fight against free radical molecules that can cause cell damage in the body.

Hydrocinnamic acids are particularly effective at combating free radicals and reducing oxidative stress; polyphenols have been associated in helping to fight a number of illnesses like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. And you guessed it, both are found in coffee.

Drinking a couple of cups a day isn’t enough to make up for an unhealthy lifestyle and the rule ’everything in moderation’ certainly applies.

“Caffeine overdose is a real thing,” cautions Nicholson against over consumption. “People don’t realise they’re addicted to caffeine because they drink it every day. Stop and you can experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches or dizziness.”

It’s OK to be fussy

Don’t like coffee? Getting a caffeine fix from other sources will have the same effect as the consumption from coffee (shout-out to Nick Symmonds and RunGum).

And if you prefer your coffee decaf, you still stand to benefit. Brewing up a decaf cup gives you the same aromatic hit and it will still contain the same antioxidants.