Dear Mark: Coffee Questions

Dear_Mark_Inline_PhotoFor today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering questions from last week’s post on coffee and fasting. First, is cortisol a bad guy all the time? Next, what about non-dairy powdered creamers? Good, bad, breaking the fast? How does thyroid hormone replacement therapy affect the fast? Is a “tiny amount” of protein disastrous to a fast? Can you take BCAAs during a fast and maintain the benefits? Can I still drink Frappucinos? And what do I think of Dr. Panda’s take on coffee triggering the digestive system and thus negating the effects of a fast?

Let’s go:

So coffee increases cortisol. Is increasing cortisol a beneficial or detrimental thing to do during a fast? I speculate that it would add to stresses in the body but I suppose it matters how well a person manages cortisol.

Cortisol relays messages about the outside world to the cells, tissues, and organs inside you. If cortisol is high, your body receives an “alert” message. Things are happening. It’s dangerous out there. It’s dire. You need to move. You need to act. You need to be alert. You need all systems trained on getting you safely through the storm. Cortisol helps with that.

When cortisol spikes, you actually release more fat from body fat stores and, in concert with adrenaline, burn it. This is helpful during exercise or any other situation that demands extra fuel.

These effects are flipped in the presence of chronic levels of cortisol activation. Chronic cortisol leads to fat gain (especially belly fat), lower energy levels, depressed cognitive function. You can’t run at top speed forever. The wheels fall off.

It’s the classic acute vs chronic dichotomy we see in everything. 

Laid atop an established pattern of chronic stress and cortisol activation, coffee during a fast could makes things worse. But if you’re chronically stressed, you probably should take care of that before you get deep into intermittent fasting.

If you’re fasting on purpose, if you’ve decided to incorporate fasting into your healthy lifestyle and you’re sleeping well, you’re eating well (when you’re not fasting), you’re training regularly, the effects change. A little cortisol isn’t anything to worry about.

Can someone explain how non-dairy powdered creamers play into this?

I assume because it’s processed it must be bad, but what impact does it have in our diets and especially with fasting?

Many non-dairy powdered creamers are awful, made from hydrogenated vegetable oil. Avoid those.

I’m a big fan of powdered MCT oil. You can whisk that into some milk or directly in your coffee for a great “cream” effect. The brand I use just has some soluble corn fiber, sunflower lecithin (choline source), sodium caseinate, and sodium dioxide to enhance the creaminess.

In case you’re unaware, MCTs are medium chain triglycerides, a class of fatty acids that convert more readily into ketone bodies than other fats. They can really help beginners extend and tolerate the fast.

They do “break” the fast, however.

What about prescription medications and autophagy? I take daily thyroid meds in the morning on an empty stomach. Since I fast til lunch, I can push this forward until 9 or 10 am, keeping it within an overall 10 hour window (eating in just 6 hours). Sometimes I think it would be good to fast 36-72 hours to really amp up autophagy, but is that a waste of time if I still take the meds?

I can’t speak to meds in general, but thyroid hormone is actually a major player in the regulation of autophagy, particularly in the liver, where it upregulates autophagy and preserves mitochondrial function, enhances mitochondrial turnover and protects against carcinogenesis.

Meanwhile, low levels of thyroid hormone increase thyroid stimulating hormone, which leads to depressed autophagy and increased cell death.

This is endogenous thyroid hormone, not prescription. The effects may differ when you’re taking it in a pill, but since those pills are meant to emulate our natural production of thyroid hormone, I don’t think it’ll differ very much.

In the tea post, would you please clarify effects of mixing even tiny amounts of protein with green tea? I read that it reduces the beneficial effects of fat burning.

Adding tiny amounts of protein will likely inhibit autophagy (cellular cleanup and maintenance) but won’t affect fat burning much at all.

Hi Mark, what about taking some BCAA’s during the fast to spare muscles? I’m trying to gain muscle and do my fasted workouts with some BCAA’s in my water bottle. Does this limit the fast? Thanks!

Depends how you’re scheduling your fasts.

If you’re doing a full-on 24 hour+ fast once a week or so, skip the BCAAs. You’re eating plenty of protein the rest of the week and a day without any coming in will be fine. Might even be optimal.

If you’re doing more of a Leangains-style compressed eating window every day, BCAAs aren’t as much of a big deal. They’ll still “break the fast,” but since you’re going to be working out right after and eating shortly, it’s mostly a wash. Martin Berkhan was a big fan of BCAAs before fasted workouts.

Frappuccino? would that break a fast?

Those things have enough sugar and calories to break several fasts.

I’m glad you mentioned Dr. Panda. I was wondering the same thing. From what I understand, anything beyond water triggers the enzymes that would prevent a autophagy. Is that incorrect?

My understanding is that anything beyond water triggers the digestive enzymes and starts the “digestive day.” Digestion, like everything else, has a circadian rhythm. Whenever you eat your first meal of the day, your body gears up for a solid 8-10 hours of eating. By the time you’re breaking your fast, the digestive day is winding down and your body isn’t as efficient at handling food.

I don’t think it has anything to do with autophagy.

If you don’t seem to tolerate food very well after a fast, try skipping the coffee.

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading and be sure to help out down below with any further questions, answers, or clarifications.

Take care!


TAGS:  coffee

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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18 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Coffee Questions”

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  1. Regarding the BCAAs to spare muscles… that’s all hogwash. The supplement industry wants you to believe the protein myths that they’ve been propagating. Of course they do bc they’ve invented the problems that they have the solutions for. It’s good business.

    I personally go months eating only once a day. I still work out like a total savage. I still get stronger. I still maintain or build muscle. If you nourish your body with enough of the right stuff, meal timing and supplements don’t matter much.

    1. Mr. King, I saw awhile back that sometimes you eat 5,000 calories at once, on a one meal day. Out of curiosity, approximately how many grams of protein in that one sitting?

      1. Probably a lot… as in 120 to 150g of protein (nose-to-tail) and double that in fat. Let me tell ya, I eat the most delicious food on the planet too… orders of magnitude better than any restaurant food.

        Yeah… yeah… yeah… mTor, shmTor. I’m all about mTor to support my performance efforts. Notice that I also go through periods of feast and famine with 24 (daily) to 120 hour fasts and huge refeeds where almost nothing that resembles primal food is off limits.

        1. Thanks, and I love your website. Gotta start doing more 4-5 day fasts. I’m in an intermittent fasting, 6-8 hour eating window rut that has become an everyday habit. Not enough variability.

          1. Yes, variability is the key. The biological law of accommodation is real. When benefits plateau, change things up.

    2. Brian, have you looked into Neurohacker’s supplement Qualia? I must mention it specifically because of your stance on supplements! I challenge you to experiment with that supplement and see what happens!

      1. Hey buddy, good to see you round these parts! For me to try a supplement, or make one for that matter, it has to pass our “early ancestors” test… it has to be something that our early ancestors evolved with… something that our DNA still expects today… something like Liver, Brain, Bone Marrow, Thymus and 50 million year old dirt that’s mixed with dinosaur DNA. I believe that the deepest, most sacred wisdom is rooted in mother nature. I believe that there’s an elegant, complete solution in the unadulterated offspring that she offers to all lifeforms.

        I have enormous respect for you and I respect all those that choose to experiment their own way to a healthier life; even if it’s with isolated, processed compounds that don’t exist in harmony with nature. Everyone has that right! I feel a deep sense of pride honoring the ways of my early ancestors… this is what I believe.

        1. No, I totally get you. That said, it’d be misleading to paint Qualia as a mixture of isolated, processed compounds that don’t exist in harmony with nature – – since it is specifically made using a whole system methodology composed of the most bioavailable forms of various ingredients, adaptogens and plants that are designed to work in prefect harmony with the ancestral mechanisms of our brains. Which is why I mentioned it – – even if you don’t believe in it, I think it could make you curious, since I’ve never seen anything like it before!

        2. “…it has to be something that our early ancestors evolved with… something that our DNA still expects today… something like Liver, Brain, Bone Marrow, Thymus and 50 million year old dirt that’s mixed with dinosaur DNA. I believe that the deepest, most sacred wisdom is rooted in mother nature. I believe that there’s an elegant, complete solution in the unadulterated offspring that she offers to all lifeforms.”

          I wish I could “like” this a million times. I have a long way to go to a truly ancestral/primal lifestyle, but I certainly believe this and it inspires and motivates me.

  2. This is right up my alley. I enjoy coffee a few times a day. I put collagen peptides and a variety of other healthy things in it, depending on my cravings. I am always wanting to keep it healthy…

  3. When do fasting benefits start, assuming you’re metabolically healthy enough to at least intermittently fast without stressing your body? Is it immediately after consuming your last bite of food, or when the last bite of food is fully digested, or some arbitrary number we’ve come up with based on when sugar-burners get hangry? How early is too early to break a fast if you’re looking for at least small levels of the benefits it provides?

    1. Hopefully someone with more hard knowledge will chime in also, but from what I’ve read the benefits of fasting start at about 12 hours after your last meal (or significant intake of calories) at which point the liver finishes wrapping up digestive functions and starts on fasting functions. I don’t recall all the details but maybe that’s at least enough to get you started. ?

  4. Yes, asking if a Frappuccino breaks a fast is like asking if ice cream breaks a fast.

    Those things are deadly and people who would not be seen eating icecream drink them as part of their routine

  5. Really appreciate the cortisol + coffee discussion! When I’m stressed and not sleeping well, coffee is the worst! Just leads me to feel more stressed and tired, rather than offering a pick-me-up. When I’m rested and at ease, a cup of morning or lunchtime coffee feels lovely.

  6. Wow! What an article! It shares answer of various questions related to coffee. I think after reading these questions and answers no body would have any doubt about coffee if it is related to your health. Thanks for sharing this helpful post.

  7. Very old post I know, but if you ever bring back ‘Dear Mark’ (hint hint please do!) I have a coffee question, several actually:

    1. How bad is drinking a cappuccino or latte everyday? I’m in Melbourne (coffee capital) and we have amazing quality coffee down here. Is a regular cappuccino really bad for me? They use excellent grass fed milk if that helps?

    2. Does beating the milk at that temperature harm or create a lot of adverse effects upon the milk and it’s protein/fat content?

    3. Which milk would you recommend for my partner who can’t do dairy? They have unsweetened almond and unsweetened organic soy- which is the least worst option?

    Cheers Mark, stay safe and thanks for all you do.

  8. Frappuccino? – Great answer. LOL.

    I heard a quote the other day, that I’d like you to weigh in on.

    “Do NOT eat like your mother did. Instead, eat like your grandmother did.” In other words, the processed foods of your mother’s generation are the enemy.

    Lastly, I’ve seen people try to turn to coffee for the first time in their lives when fasting, only to find that they don’t like coffee. The problem isn’t them, it’s that they’re trying burnt and bitter industrial coffee that was packaged months if not years ago.

    If we’re going to turn to coffee during a fast, then make it count by drinking coffee that was roasted days ago, not months ago. IMHO.