Oh that morning….or afternoon…or evening cup of coffee.  It’s common for clients to reports how many cups of coffee they have each day and then quickly follow with “Wait, is that too much caffeine?” My answer is usually “It depends.”

Caffeine is a compound that acts as a central nervous system stimulant. Which is why so many people rely on it, especially in the morning. It promotes mental alertness during this sleepy start to the day. If you are relying on the effects of caffeine to keep you from falling asleep during your day, it’s a good time to examine your sleeping patterns. The National Sleep Foundation (and many other medical associations) recommend 7-9 hours of sleep each night for adults. And good quality sleep, as well. If your sleep pattern is lacking, it’s time to reassess your routines and patterns to prioritize adequate rest.

Because of caffeine’s effect on the central nervous system, it’s also considered an ergogenic aid for sports performance. (An ergogenic aid is basically a substance taken that can enhance sports performance and create a competitive advantage). It can decrease your perceived exertion allowing you to work harder and delay fatigue, and it can assist with mental focus during competition and training. However, to achieve this effect, research shows you only need to consume approximately 2-3 mg/kg of your body weight. For a 150-pound person, this equals about 140-200 mg of caffeine. If you use caffeine for this purpose, try consuming it 1 hour prior to exercise. Caffeine can stimulate bowel movements and you don’t want to get caught needing the bathroom when its time to move.

Beyond this use for exercise, here are some general guidelines for caffeine consumption. According to Mayo Clinic, about 400 mg. per day seems to be safe for most adults. However, if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may want to rethink your dosage:

* Insomnia/difficulty sleeping

* Frequent headaches

* Irritability, restlessness or nervousness

* Gastrointestinal upset including nausea

* Rapid heartbeat

Be mindful that caffeine may interact with medications or supplements you take. This is especially true for ephedrine-containing medications (such as decongestants) where the risks include hypertension, stroke and seizures.

To total up your caffeine intake…..a typical 8 oz. cup of coffee contains anywhere from about 95-150 mg. of caffeine. One oz. of espresso contains about 50-65 mg. and a Grande latte from Starbucks™ contains 150 mg. caffeine. If you prefer tea, caffeine content is lower at around 25-50 mg. caffeine per 8 oz. cup. And a cola provides approximately 35 mg. caffeine on average. Energy drinks vary widely but be wary of the combination of stimulants in these beverages.

If you feel you need to reduce your caffeine intake, do so gradually or the withdrawal headaches can be difficult to endure. One easy way to moderate your caffeine intake is switching to half caffeinated coffee and espresso beverages. This will cut your caffeine intake in half while allowing you to enjoy the flavor and aroma of the drinks.

With all this in mind, there is a place in a healthy diet for caffeinated beverage and food products. (Both coffee and tea have great antioxidant value!) Just be mindful of how your body responds and, like all other things in nutrition, enjoy in moderation.