Can Coffee Increase Your Metabolism and Help You Burn Fat?

Young Woman Smiling With Cup of CoffeeCoffee 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 (1).

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

What caffeine does in the brain, is to block an inhibitory neurotransmitter called Adenosine (2, 3).

By blocking Adenosine, caffeine increases the firing of neurons and the release of neurotransmitters like Dopamine and Norepinephrine.

Coffee Can Help to Mobilize Fat From The Fat Tissues

Cup of Coffee

Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, which sends direct signals to the fat cells to tell them to break down fat (4, 5).

Another thing that caffeine does is to increase our blood levels of the hormone Epinephrine, which is also known as Adrenaline (6, 7).

Epinephrine travels through the blood, to the fat tissues and send 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.

Coffee Can Increase The 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%, with larger doses having an even bigger effect (8, 9).

Interestingly, most of the increase in metabolism is caused by an increase in the burning of fat (10).

Unfortunately, the effect is less pronounced in those who are obese.

In one study, the increase in fat burning in lean people is as high as 29%, while in obese individuals the increase is about 10% (11). The effect also appears to diminish with age and is more pronounced in younger individuals (12).

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%, on average (13, 14).

Coffee and Weight Loss in The Long Term

Coffee Beans

There is one major caveat here, and that is the fact that people become tolerant to the effects of caffeine (15, 16).

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 (17, 18).

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 2 weeks on, 2 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.

41 Comments

  1. Elena Skok says:

    I was under the impression that roasting coffee beans destroys the chlorogenic acid and its benefits which is the main reason for the popularity of the green coffee bean extract that is so hyped today….

    • I’m pretty sure regular coffee contains it too, but it is more bioavailable in green coffee.

    • Priscilla Dorio says:

      Yes that’s what I heard too. Coffee beans when roasted have little to no chlorgenic acid – rendering them useless in metabolism. Coffee Bean extract is what you need to take as it is not roasted.

  2. I find this very interesting. I am just now becoming a coffee drinker — trying to move away from diet sodas. There is NOTHING about it that suppresses my appetite. Perhaps it’s the increase in my metabolism, but it makes me STARVING within an hour or so. I’m concerned that an increase in calories will override any metabolic boost I may receive.

  3. John Staunton says:

    Interesting, I would still be concerned about its impact on cortisol and knock on effect to sleep duration and sleep quality, not to mention its effect on blood sugar, especially when combined with a sugary snack. It also temporarily skyrockets Homocysteine levels.

  4. Troy Martin says:

    I agree with the above statement. Unfortunately most people consume far too much caffeine, among other stimulants, these days and combining that with stressful lifestyles and poor food choices means that I would, personally, never advocate the consumption of caffeine as a weight loss tool especially when you consider the effect it can have on the adrenal system.

    I always encourage my clients to limit their caffeine intake to a couple of cups of coffee/tea and restrict it to pre midday so that it doesn’t interfere with their sleep patterns, sleep being something else which can have a huge impact on weight loss.

  5. LaDonna H says:

    I started drinking coffee about three years ago. Recently I have heard new diet/health news stating that food and drink that contains acids are responsible for weight gain, that we need to ingest neutral foods. Coffee is high up on the no no list. What do you think about the whole acidic food/drink adds to weight gain issue?

    • I don’t think that’s true, sounds like pseudoscience to me.

      • Did you hear that in the free online Food Matters movie LaDonna?

        • LaDonna H. says:

          I can’t pinpoint exactly where I read about it, but it was on a nutrition blog that comes over my Facebook feed. I believe there is a book out about it as well.

          • I think it’s very speculative theory. Certainly unproven..
            Perhaps foods we know that cause weight gain (eg. soda, sweets) happen to be acidic, and that’s how their theory has come about.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Does instant coffee, e.g. Caffeinated Nescafe, have the beneficial effects, or does it have to be freshly ground and brewed stuff?

  7. Can drinking decaf work the same as drinking regular? And what about this green coffee I am reading about? I love my coffee in the mornings.

  8. I’d say it’s very important how you have your coffee too ie. instant, brewed, starbucksed..?
    There’s no way the fat loss benefits here would outweigh the extra calories from a grande full cream caramel latte.

  9. Coffee is delicious and I love it but for some reason after a few days of drinking it, I start to feel a little heavier. I think coffee makes me hungrier, thus I eat more and that’s why I feel heavier – so perhaps it’s not good for me? Oh and I drink it black – so, no, it’s not the added sugars, creams, etc that are causing this problem. I do love coffee though, so it’s not like I will give it up completely.

    • Keep in mind that coffee, more so caffeine, is a diuretic. It causes the body to flush liquids, causing dehydration. It’s fairly common for thirst and dehydration to show itself as “hunger” at first (or a craving to consume). Drink lots of water after your coffee to help quell the cravings. If the feeling persists after a half hour and proper hydration, then eat something.

  10. Coffee isn’t good for you, there are so many alternatives.

    I read something about coffee and that it is a metabolism killer…it shuts down the metabolism and that if you must have your morning coffee to eat something first, a healthy choice like oatmeal or a piece of fruit. It can be very confusing because coffee is a stimulant and I thought it would help?

    • Coffee does increase metabolism as the article says. It’s a stimulant drug – caffeine, that is – meaning it causes the central nervous system to go into overdrive. This is the reason people use caffeine to ‘wake up’ in the mornings.

      While no drug is necessarily healthy, per se, caffeine is likely the least problematic (compared to alcohol, marijuana, and other more serious drugs like opiates). Yes, one can become dependent upon it, however generally a caffeine dependency has more to do with psychological dependency symptoms than it does with physical symptoms (i.e. people crave the feeling they get when they drink coffee, rather than subconsciously craving the drug itself).

      Generally, a cup of coffee in the mornings isn’t a very bad thing. It likely won’t cause you to become dependent, and it will raise your metabolism. The idea that coffee is a “metabolism killer” has, so far, not been proved. The best one can do is base their decisions on scientific facts that have been proved through statistical studies, randomized trials, and number crunching. While coffee alone likely won’t cause one to lose an extensive amount of weight, a cup or two a day can’t hurt.

      As for whether oatmeal and fruit is the best thing to eat in the morning; well, that certainly has been and will be debated in the future. Without letting my personal biases come out, I would recommend if you’re going to have a cup of coffee to have it before your oatmeal and fruit. It will dampen the effects of the glycogen in your system, and will cause you to burn the oatmeal and fruit up before it’s able to become fat stores.

      I hope this helps :)

  11. How many calories does black coffee have? And can it be eaten dry? Also, is it ok to add a 0 calorie sweetener?

    • Coffee has virtually no calories. I don’t think it can be eaten dry, that would probably be very unpleasant.

      Depends on the sweetener… some of them are controversial, need to do some research and make that decision for yourself.

  12. I have a question, when am I supposed to have my coffee, before or after my workouts? I exercise in the early morning before I eat my breakfast.

  13. While it’s not mentioned here; there are NUMEROUS reasons other than weight loss to consume coffee. Some of these are Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, liver cancer and Alzheimer’s. There are tons of studies showing the significant health benefits. I think that the rewards FAR outweigh the risks.

  14. James Harrison says:

    I’ve seen so much on the web that counters your arguments: caffeine does NOT aid weight loss – if anything the opposite effect is achieved.

    Even my health nutritionist agrees.

    I think more solid research is required – so for me the jury’s out on this debate.

    • Caffeine is a stimulant and it DOES aid weight loss. Your “nutritionist” is misinformed. Professionals usually just repeat what they’ve been taught. I’ve got all the research I need- experience. Gained 70 lbs in 9 months with baby #5. Expected most to melt with no effort as usual, maybe needing exercise for the last 10-15 lbs. Shocked when only after about 25 lbs the first few weeks, I stopped losing!

      My hormones and metabolism are screwed up. Baby is 4 1/2 months old, and I’ve been stuck for weeks upon weeks. Started coffee 3-4 days ago to try and boost things. Wow, finally I’ve seen a consistent drop of about 3-4 lbs in only a couple of days. I have a very accurate scale that measures to the tenth of a pound consistently.

      I weigh throughout the day, but always use morning weight after rising and pottying for comparison, so I am very familiar with my weight on a daily basis. Coffee works! I plan to go off and on, so my body doesn’t get used to it and adjust.

      So, you go ahead and listen to a “professional” about coffee not being good. And I’ll keep sipping away as I watch the numbers on the scale drop like a rock while gaining some antioxidants as well.

      • Nice, I agree with you! I started drinking about 2 to 3 cups of black coffee a day with a little organic stevia, I was at a weight loss plateau myself and then all of a sudden that week I lost 5 lbs!

        I totally agree with the tolerance factor and I too will be going off and on it, 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off!

      • I agree too! From personal experience. I never used to drink coffee and didn’t struggle with weight but I did have a couple extra pounds. I went on a diet and lost 5-10. Right around the same time I started drinking coffee and loved it! I kept the weight loss off easily with minimal diet and exercise.

        About 6 months ago I had my doctor recommend I stop drinking caffeine so I did altogether. I have gained 7 lbs in 6 months and have even been trying to eat healthier and work out. Nothing seems to be helping. I think I’m one of the people who benefit from coffee in the weight loss department.

  15. Nicole Bates says:

    Quick question, I can’t seem to find one FINAL answer on caffeine’s effect on metabolism.

    I took green coffee pills, and felt (could have been all placebo) that my appetite was suppressed and combined with healthy eating and a lot of gym time I lost a considerable amount of weight.

    Recently I was speaking with a health/nutrition/weight-loss consultant and they told me that even one cup of coffee and its caffeine would slow my metabolic rate and decrease my potential to lose the most weight possible.

    Since then I’ve been missing my coffee terribly, (I take it black with one packet of splenda) and my research hasn’t provided me with a definitive answer.

    Thoughts? To drink or not to drink?

    Thanks!

  16. Hi, good morning!

    I am a big coffee lover, but recently I got acid reflux, so my gastroenterologist told me not to drink coffee?

    I am just worried, is there any alternative for me instead of coffee? Please suggest something.

    Thanks.

    • At least yours told you to stop coffee. My gastroenterologist told me that changing my diet wouldn’t really help. 3 years later I figured out that caffeine was my problem the whole time. Now that I’ve lost some weight I seem to be tolerating it better though.

      Ginseng is a decent enough alternative to coffee. Maca is good too, but expensive compared to coffee. I don’t know if you are overweight at all, but for me, losing a few pounds really helps with the pressure on my stomach. Less reflux seems to occur. You might be able to get back onto coffee afterwards. Just my 2 cents…

  17. I have found other research to be similar to this and I couldn’t help but try it! I lost 18 kg and went from 65 kg to 47 kg in weight from increasing my black instant coffee – I also added a few extra shots as time went on.

    I had coffee shots before working out and about three during the day… I also found that it kept me regular, I wasn’t feeling as hungry and I was burning more calories when working out and lasting longer on the treadmill! Seriously, if you want to lose the weight I highly recommend increasing your coffee intake – but hold the milk!

    • Yep, same exact thing for me! Helped aid weight loss, helped keep me regular, helped boost my daily workout! Black coffee with a tad organic stevia and 2 or 3 cups a day, now I realize that I need to go off and back on it so I don’t build up a tolerance … touche.

  18. I used to weigh 55kg but now 70kg and I really feel horrible. Does that mean I can reduce with the help of coffee? Or what can I take to help me back in shape?

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