Athletes and their coffee

Words: Eunice Visagie | Photos: Hanno Lategan

In a world where we are looking for all that will make our lives faster and easier, 'instant' has become the magic word … just not in the case of coffee. Speaking to professional athletes, you soon realise that 'instant' coffee is not only frowned upon, it is also seen as a dirty word by some!

Photo credit: Hanno Lategan

Nowadays, it is not strange to hear people, especially professional sportsmen and women, talk about coffee in the same way connoisseurs talk about wine and chocolate. Not surprising then that the love for good coffee, wine and dark chocolate are something they cherish.

Marisa Freeman, from Häzz in Stellenbosch and Gourmet Coffee Roasters, believes that even though the taste of good coffee does play a role in the hype around athletes and their coffee, there is more to it. "Just like 'regular' people enjoy a pick-me-up before exercise, athletes and cyclists, in particular, enjoy their caffeine fix before a ride. It is a known fact that caffeine assists in a better workout, and mental and physical performance," said Freeman.

Triathlete Mari Rabie agrees. "Subjectively, it gives you a massive boost. I always drink coffee before I go training. It is like being part of a culture. It is also part of the daily routine," she said. Multisport-athlete Dan Hugo added, “It is a kind of relationship you have. It is a luxury you can afford."

Triathlete Richard Murray, like Hugo, has an appreciation for the finer things in life. "I have found a love for red wine, dark chocolate and coffee over the past few years as a professional triathlete. Many a day, during the hard weeks, I see my consumption of coffee rise dramatically to three or four cups a day. As caffeine was once a banned substance some years ago, I find that this drink can both mentally and sometimes physically give me the lift I need to get through some sessions I was dreading, or just to enjoy a decaf in the evening with friends post dinner. The importance of knowing when, where and why to drink coffee should be tested and used both in training and racing. A naughty double espresso pre-race is now the must and I believe in quality coffee, which is ground fresh and at the perfect temperature. Form, functionality and enjoyment are the reasons behind coffee and I believe that when used correctly, is an amazing tool for endurance sports," commented Murray.

There are even some international athletes, like Spaniard Javier Gomez, who do not drink coffee during the week, but only before a race.

Even though coffee is great on a mental or physical level, your palate plays a role as well. According to Freeman, good coffee becomes great in three steps. "Having good coffee (beans) is the first of three factors. The other two biggest contributing factors are your equipment and barista*. On the equipment side, it is always best to invest in the highest quality your money can buy and then look after it properly. On the barista side, he/she has to be passionate and willing to improve daily. Other factors that contribute are good quality/filtered water, the correct grind, the correct roast profile, and the water or milk not being heated over boiling temperature. It is quite a science really!"

One gets the feeling that with the opening of more coffee shops and even magazines marketed at coffee lovers, it is the rise of the coffee snob. "I know my day is not complete without that perfect cup first thing, it leaves a feeling of longing. I can imagine that to be true for most people, including athletes. And if your day is made up of performing physically to your best, that what supplements your energy must be the best too," added Freeman.

Cynthia Sass, a nutritionist and registered dietitian with a Master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health, wrote on that coffee is a secret super food and if you exercise, caffeine can offer even more functional benefits for your workouts. She gives five reasons to enjoy it as part of an active lifestyle: Improved circulation, less pain, better memory, more muscle fuel and muscle preservation.

Along with the good news she also gives five basic rules to follow if you are a lover of coffee and an athlete: Don’t overdo it, incorporate it in healthy ways, be consistent with your intake, water must still be your beverage of choice and don’t drink coffee at least six hours before going to bed to prevent sleep interference.

Obviously, all lovers of coffee aren’t professional athletes though. Sass remains the bearer of good news and notes the following about coffee: It contains antioxidants, may lessen the risk of diabetes, gives a boost to your workout, may fend off aging and lowers the risk of diseases like colon cancer, liver cirrhosis, gallstones, breast and endometrial cancer. But once again she warns to drink in moderation.

So next time you visit you favourite coffee spot, remember there is so much more to that cup of greatness than just quality beans.

More information
For more information on how to create the perfect cuppa, visit

Barista - a person who is specially trained in the making and serving of coffee drinks.