Coconut Oil Coffee: Burn Fat, Be Alert and Unleash Your Superpowers!

What if I told you there was one simple way in which you could help your body burn more fat, allow you to be focused and alert, energize up your workout performance and potentially give you random superpowers?

OK, maybe I am stretching it on the superpowers but I am serious about the other benefits.

If life was a video game, then using coconut oil in coffee would be my “power up” or a way to “level up” (as the “kids” may say).

Yes, You Can Enjoy Your Coffee

There’s just something about a morning coffee/espresso (or tea for some) that gives a higher enjoyability in which to start the day.

The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1891

In what now seems like “A long time ago in a galaxy farfar away”, I thought it would be a good idea to “detox” and stop drinking coffee altogether.

I was mistaken.

That was not so much fun. I wasn’t an addict by any means, but not having that morning coffee was just unsatisfying. Since I missed it, I went and did what any sane person would do…brought it back.

I haven’t looked back since, and have even taken it to another level of “awesomeness”.

“Starvation” Never Tasted So Good

I often like to refer to my morning coffee/espresso drink as my hot cup of “starvation mode”. It’s just my fun/sarcastic way of using some humor to counteract all the people who say that I’m “starving” myself by skipping breakfast…which is not true (and another article topic that I need to cover soon).

Just in case you are new here, I should point out a could quick facts. I’ve covered before that eating more often does NOT speed up your metabolism. This is a key topic of understanding that frees you up to eat on your own terms.

Also your daily metabolism does not rapidly crash by “skipping” a meal (and actually increases in short term fasting). Much of that train of thought I think stems from the first assumption of meals and metabolism mentioned above along with observation of “long” term (weeks/months) starvation diets, not meal to meal physiological responses.

Your metabolism instead plays the long game when it comes to calorie intake and energy needs, and is much smarter than we give it credit for most of the time.

So skipping a meal (in this case breakfast) is not going to suddenly drop one’s metabolic rate into a “starvation mode” response that radically effects one’s ability to burn fat.

In fact, when done right it does the opposite while also having many other “perks” (bad pun I know).

The Best Part of Waking Up

Coming off your nighttime fast (during sleep), your body has already created an optimal fat releasing environment with lower insulin and lower (but stable) blood sugar.

I use the term fat “releasing” because that is how your body works. You have to first free up those stored fatty acids (FFAs) if you want to burn them up for energy.

Now adding in a bit of coffee and you can give a bump to some strong fat releasing hormones (catecholamines) and get on using up those FFAs for energy before your first meal of the day.

People (including myself) have also reported other benefits to having coffee in the morning before eating such as increased alertness, focus, and improved energy/mood (even Scott Adams of Dilbert fame finds his creativeness peaks in the AM with coffee and without a “breakfast”).

Of course one can also take this too far and start to burn out (hormesis effect of stress overload), so balance is key.

Even with an intermittent fasting approach to daily eating, you can and should be able to still enjoy your coffee. There is no reason you should have to feel deprived of it.

Here’s my version.

 

The Secret Ingredient Is…

A common question I get is “what can I put in my coffee”? Since intermittent “fasting” is at the heart of it all, a natural question is about “what constitutes a fast?”.

Technically speaking anything (except water) would officially “break” a fast, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways in which to still get the same overall (or even improved) results.

This has lead me through many years of experimentation to where I am now with my own simple coffee/espresso recipe.

It involves only one very “special” ingredient…coconut oil.

Why coconut oil? Well in looking at what it can potentially do, it makes sense (and tastes pretty good too…and I don’t even like coconut in general).

The Benefits

This concoction of coffee/espresso and coconut oil is what I have found to compliment and even in some ways enhance my own eating lifestyle. I’ve tried many things in my coffee, but coconut oil seems to be the one for me.

Coconut oil is mostly made up of MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides). The main advantages of MCTs include:

  • MCTs are absorbed quickly by the body (digestion) and quicker to use for immediate energy.
  • MCTs enhance ketone production which have therapeutic (energy/cognitive) and nitrogen retention (protein sparing) advantages (1).
  • MCT rich diets (compared to LCT, long-chain triglycerides) have been shown to increase EE (energy expenditure) and metabolic rates (2, 3).
  • MCT rich diets shown to better reduce hunger/suppress appetite (4)

All pretty powerful advantages especially when integrated into the 2 Meal / intermittent fasting lifestyle.

The potential to not only have more immediate and stable (not anxiety driven) energy but also control hunger/appetite better (reducing rebound eating tendencies), makes it a big plus in my book for a lasting lean lifestyle plan.

How to Start

This is the easy part::

  1. Put your coconut oil in a cup (2 rough tablespoons for me, but see below on starting with less at first).
  2. Add in your hot coffee or espresso (if I go to the coffee shop I do espresso shots and hot water otherwise known as an “Americano”). Tea is also an option.
  3. Sip and enjoy your new found energy and *superpowers (*disclaimer: powers not guaranteed).

Sometimes I will brew my own at home (via a French Press and good beans) and other times I will take my insulated coffee mug to the coffee shop with the coconut oil already inside.

The first-time looks of the baristas staring into the mug is always priceless. When they ask “What the hell is that?”, I just reply “My secret sauce”.

And so began the local coffee house legend of the guy who brings in the “secret sauce” (mostly a legend in my own mind of course).

In the end whether you choose to drink coffee/tea with coconut oil (or anything else like heavy cream, ghee, butter, etc) or even at all is entirely up to you. I would say to avoid milk though and go for fat only sources in the AM.

Just find your own way that works for you, that is all that matters.

“Doesn’t This Break the Fast?”

This is the most common question I get as how this also can fit into an IF or 2 Meals lifestyle.

In short “Yes”, as anything but water “breaks” a true fast.

However I also like to ask the question “What particular benefit are you looking to maintain with 100% fasting?”.

If it is lower blood sugar/insulin, then that is still maintained as fat alone should not impact levels (like protein and carbs will).

If it is for autophagy, then you are still having the proper environment with lower insulin/blood sugar and protein intake. Also combined with caffeine will help through mTOR/p70S6K inhibition (inverse relationship with autophagy).

Still want to burn fat? Well coconut oil shown above will increase EE (energy expenditure) and not inhibit overall fat oxidation. In fact one small study (Klein S, 1992) done comparing metabolic parameters of a fasted state vs lipid (fat) only showed:

Changes in plasma glucose, free fatty acids, ketone bodies, insulin, and epinephrine concentrations during fasting were the same in both the control and lipid studies.

While no one really just eats fat only all day, it showed that the metabolic parameters from fasting are more from carbohydrate restriction (protein was also restricted too).

So the real question becomes rather “Do you need a pure fast to reap the benefits or is there a better way to go about it?”.

For many especially those with compromised stress loads, adrenal/cortisol issues, lower bodyfat (making access to FFAs harder) or those with more mentally demanding jobs and needing more “brain fuel”, this may just be a better (or “gentler”) way to go about an IF/2 Meals protocol lifestyle.

I think of it more of an “enhanced” fast..or perhaps this is just progressing into IF 2.0.

Bonus: Pre-Workout Timing and Optimal Recovery

As mentioned above, caffeine enhances autophagy via inhibiting mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) and p70S6K (p70S6 kinase). Both of which are also markers of protein synthesis.

So by drinking in a fasted state before a workout, you are also setting yourself up for an optimal rebound for protein synthesis on your first meal afterwards. Ori Hofmekler (author of the Warrior Diet) explains it with a great “spring” analogy (that I would have liked to “borrow” but credit goes to him):

The mTOR cannot be activated when you drink coffee. When you drink coffee before exercise, the mTOR is going to be inhibited by exercise anyway, but this inhibition is not a regular inhibition… Fasting, exercise and coffee inhibit mTOR in a way that can be compared to a spring being compressed in a closed box.

It’s a bit tricky, but exercise inhibits and stimulates mTOR at the same time. So when exercise and coffee inhibit the mTOR, as soon as you stop exercising, mTOR kicks back in with a vengeance. And when you eat a recovery meal after exercise, your muscle is biologically most prepared to accept protein and gain muscle mass.

That’s why the timing of coffee is very important.

FAQs

Below are many of the most common questions I get about coconut oil and coffee on Facebook and Twitter:

“How much should I be using?”

The recommended daily amount to get the optimal nutrition (based on the analysis of MCTs found in breast milk) is about 3.5 tablespoons (per day). I suggest when starting out, work your way into this. Start with a couple teaspoons and increase by how you feel it is working. I tend to do @ 1-2 tablespoons in the AM and then also may use for cooking purposes later on.

“Are there any side effects?”

Most common will be an “explosive” reaction (diarrhea) if you take in excess and your body can’t handle it. This is why it is also recommended that the suggested daily amount be spread out over the day. If you experience nausea/fatigue/light-headedness that may also be a sign of excess ketone buildup (excess ketones may signal insulin release dropping blood sugar). If you are already doing low carb for ketosis, adding too much coconut oil on an empty stomach may be overload. Another reason to start with low doses.

“What is the best kind to get?”

Unprocessed or “Virgin” is the best kind to get. There is also “expeller-pressed” which is done a more traditional way of processing.  Both have the MCTs but the the Virgin will have the optimal nutrients as well as flavor. I have the benefit of a Trader Joe’s nearby and get their brand of Virgin coconut oil for only $5.99/16 oz jar (they only sell in stores though). If buying online another popular (affordable) brand name also seems to be Nutiva.

“Is using coconut milk the same?”

Coconut milk while I can’t see being a problem is not the same as the oil. The milk will have some protein and carbs (which may also the an issue for allergic reactions for some).  It is also lower in fat (MCTs) compared to the oil by volume (1 tbsp milk=3g and 1 tbsp oil=14 g). You get the best “bang for your buck” with the oil.

“Can I add in milk?”

As mentioned above it is not ideal especially before the first meal of the day. Milk is insulinogenic and pure fats are not (unless an excess of ketones is present). So stick with fats only.

“I don’t like coffee, can I use tea?”

Sure, it’s your choice. Note that coconut oil is liquid when hot, but solid in cooler weather. So having it in a hot drink is ideal to keep it liquid and not clumping up (you could also blend into a cold drink).

“Can I have more than one cup?”

How many cups of coffee and coconut oil you have is up to you. Personally I only need one to keep me going all morning long. If you have more than one cup then just split up your coconut oil. I would advise of excess coffee consumption overall and drinking too late in the day (especially with the coconut oil) as it may keep you from falling asleep later on.

“I don’t like coffee or tea, so how can I still take this?”

There are many who do take it “straight up” (insert gag reflex here). While that’s not my option, if you can stomach it that is one way to get it down. I’ve read many comments from those especially with adrenal/chronic fatigue issues and avoiding caffeine who have had much success and more daily energy doing it this way throughout the day.

“How do I store it?”

In a cabinet is fine. It does not need to be refrigerated…unless you like chiseling through it like carving a statue in marble (rock hard).

“What else could I use coconut oil for?”

Cooking with it as an oil is a popular option. My other secret use is a daily morning “oil pulling” session with it too.

“Aren’t saturated fats bad for you?”

In short, no. In fact you could be healthier shifting more fats to saturated and away from more polyunsaturated. One study showed mice whose diets enriched in saturated fatty acids (palm or MCT oil) improved liver injury and parameters (decreased levels of endotoxin and lipid peroxidation) compared to groups with higher intakes of polyunsaturated (fish oil) fats. You can also read more about why fats are not all bad.


CC Main Photo Credit: Doug on Flickr

(1) Babayan, V.K. Medium chain fatty acid esters and their medical and nutritional applications. J Am Oil Chem Soc, 1981

(2) Baba, N., Bracco, E.F., Seylar, J., Hashim, S.A. Enhanced thermogenesis and diminished deposition of fat in response to overfeeding with diets containing medium chain triglycerides. J Am Soc Clin Nutrition, 1981

(3) M-P St-Onge and P J H Jones. Greater rise in fat oxidation with medium-chain triglyceride consumption relative to long-chain triglyceride is associated with lower initial body weight and greater loss of subcutaneous adipose tissue. International Journal of Obesity, 2003

(4) Stubbs RJ, Harbron CG. Covert manipulation of the ratio of medium- to long-chain triglycerides in isoenergetically dense diets: effect on food intake in ad libitum feeding men. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1996 May;20(5):435-44.

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