Can Coffee Increase Your Metabolism and Help You Burn Fat?

July 20, 2015 Updated: July 21, 2015

Coffee contains caffeine, which is the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world.

Caffeine has made its way to most commercial fat-burning supplements for good reason.

It is one of the few substances that is known to help mobilize fats from the fat tissues and increase metabolism.

Coffee Contains Stimulants

Coffee isn’t just warm black water. Substances in the coffee beans do make it into the final drink.

In fact, coffee contains several biologically active substances that can affect metabolism:

  • Caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant.
  • Theobromine and theophylline, substances related to caffeine that can also have a stimulant effect.
  • Chlorogenic acid, one of the biologically active compounds in coffee, may help slow absorption of carbohydrates.
 (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, which sends direct signals to the fat cells to tell them to break down fat. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

The most important of these is caffeine, which is very potent and has been studied thoroughly.

What caffeine does in the brain is block an inhibitory neurotransmitter called adenosine. 

By blocking adenosine, caffeine increases the firing of neurons and the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine.

Coffee Can Help Mobilize Fat  

Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, which sends direct signals to fat cells to tell them to break down fat.

Another thing that caffeine does is to increase our blood levels of the hormone epinephrine, also known as adrenaline.

Epinephrine travels through the blood to the fat tissues and sends signals to break down fats and release them into the blood.

This is how caffeine helps to mobilize fat from the fat tissues, making it available for use as free fatty acids in the blood.

(EpochTimes)
Studies show that caffeine can improve exercise performance by 11–12 percent, on average. (EpochTimes)

 

Coffee Can Increase Metabolic Rate

How many calories we burn at rest is called the resting metabolic rate (RMR). The higher our metabolic rate, the easier it is for us to lose weight, and the more we can allow ourselves to eat without gaining.

Studies show that caffeine can increase the metabolic rate by 3–11 percent, with larger doses having an even bigger effect.

Interestingly, most of the increase in metabolism is caused by an increase in the burning of fat. Unfortunately, the effect is less pronounced in those who are obese. 

In one study, the increase in fat burning in lean people was as high as 29 percent, while in obese individuals the increase is about 10 percent. The effect also appears to diminish with age and is more pronounced in younger individuals. 

Caffeine can improve athletic performance via several mechanisms, one of those being increased mobilization of fatty acids from the fat tissues. Studies show that caffeine can improve exercise performance by 11-12 percent, on average.

(Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Whether coffee or caffeine can help you lose weight in the long term may depend on the individual. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

 

Coffee and Weight Loss in the Long Term

There is one major caveat here, and that is the fact that people become tolerant to the effects of caffeine.

In the short term, caffeine can boost the metabolic rate and increase fat burning, but after a while people become tolerant to the effects and it stops working.

But even if coffee doesn’t make you expend more calories in the long term, there is still a possibility that it blunts appetite and helps you eat less.

In one study, caffeine had an appetite reducing effect in men, but not in women—making them eat less at a meal following caffeine consumption. However, another study showed no effect for men.

Whether coffee or caffeine can help you lose weight in the long term may depend on the individual. At this point, there is no evidence that it can help with weight loss in the long term.

Take-Home Message

Even though caffeine can boost your metabolism in the short term, this effect is diminished in long-term coffee drinkers due to tolerance.

If you’re primarily interested in coffee for the sake of fat loss, then it may be best to cycle it to prevent a buildup of tolerance. Perhaps cycles of  two weeks on, two weeks off.

Of course, there are plenty of other great reasons to drink coffee, including the fact that coffee is the single largest source of antioxidants in the western diet, outranking both fruits and vegetables, combined.

Kris Gunnars is a medical student and certified personal trainer with a passion for evidence-based nutrition. This article was originally published on AuthorityNutrition.com.