Is Coffee Bad for Kids?

Coffee, Kids and Cocaine

Fathers Day this year I was on the tea and coffee station at the school’s Father’s Day Breakfast. I thought I’d be serving tea and coffee to the dads, so was a bit surprised at the number of kids who asked for tea, and even more surprisingly, coffee (one girl had two cups!). I didn’t know that tea and coffee drinking was a thing for kids – that’s primary school kids, not high school.

I don’t like being the fun police (though my kids would beg to differ), but… after I got over my surprise, I did take a look at whether regular caffeine consumption in kids is a good idea. More and more these days, we forget that kids are kids. They aren’t just smaller versions of adults. Their bodies and brains are different. They don’t have the same biochemical make up as adults. Caffeine doesn’t have the same effect on kids as it does on adults.

Why Caffeinated Drinks Are Not the Best Choice For Kids

Increased anxiety levels: From a meta analysis of the available literature, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand found evidence that caffeine increased anxiety levels in kids at doses of around 3 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight. For your average primary schooler, this is anywhere between 90 mg and 150 mg of caffeine. This is around 2-3 cans of cola a day, 1-2 cups of instant coffee, 2-3 cups of tea, or half a cup of brewed coffee, and 1-2 energy drinks.

Insomnia: Many people (not just kids) find that coffee keeps them awake at night. Kids aged 5-12 need about 11 hours sleep a day, and teenagers 9-10. It’s hard enough to have kids in bed for that length of time given our crazy busy lifestyle these days. When they are in bed, you want them sleeping, not climbing the walls due to the caffeine they’ve had earlier in the day.

Tooth Decay: Coffee is acidic. It can cause a decrease in tooth enamel. This is particularly problematic for kids. It can take several years for enamel on new adult teeth to harden, so kids teeth are more susceptible to the acid content of coffee than are adults’.

Appetite Suppression: Some studies have shown teenagers using caffeine as an appetite suppressant. Even if it is not deliberately consumed for that reason, kids who regularly drink coffee or tea, may eat less, and miss out on nutrients essential for growth.

Bone Loss: 6mg of calcium is lost for every 100 mg of caffeine ingested. For kids, particularly fast growing teens, this is a real issue for bone growth. Caffeine interferes with intestinal calcium absorption. If kids are getting their caffeine through cola drinks, that is even more of an issue. Cola drinks are super acidic. The body will try to get rid of the excess acidity by eliminating it through the urine. It’s been estimated that for one can of cola drink, you’d need to produce thirty times that volume in urine to rid your body of the acidity from the cola. That’s not going to happen. So instead, your body will try to restore the pH balance by using alkaline mineral salts (such as calcium) stored in the body. Calcium is stored in bones and teeth. If the body is using calcium stored in bones and teeth to de-acidify, then it’s not long before bones and teeth become week.

Concentration and Hyperactivity: Caffeine is a stimulant. It can cause hyperactivity and restlessness. It can also cause an inability to concentrate, but on the other side of that coin, it’s moderate consumption of caffeine by kids has also been shown to increase concentration, and also reduce the likelihood of depression.  According to Dr Tomas Depaulis, a research scientist at Vanderbilt University in the US

Addiction: A 2006 study looked at  9-11 year olds who habitually drank on average 109mg of caffeine per day (equivalent to a strong cup of instant coffee). The study showed that after abstention from caffeine overnight, when the kids were given 50mg of caffeine in the morning, the habitual caffeine users in the study reported the reversal of withdrawal symptoms (headache and dulled cognition). The non caffeine users reported no changes in cognitive performance, alertness or headache.   

Here’s the kicker. Chronic Caffeine Consumption Could Increase Susceptibility to Cocaine Addiction

Our kids’ brain systems are maturing during adolescence. These systems include higher -order processing areas of the brain, and also the mesocorticolimbic dopamine system ( you might know that one as the “reward system” or “reward pathway”)

Adolescents respond differently to caffeine as compared to the way adults do. They are more sensitive to caffeine and yet, adolescents who chronically consume caffeine develop a greater tolerance than adults do. So they need more of it to get the same effect.

Caffeine increases the reward effects of cocaine because it increases dopamine neuro-transmission. A study in rats showed that for animals who consumed caffeine during adolescence, these enhanced effects of cocaine were present even when caffeine was withdrawn. So for everyone, cocaine has more effect if you’re a caffeine drinker, but for adults who are not current caffeine consumers, but who did chronically consume caffeine in adolescence, that enhancement of the psychostimulant effects of cocaine was still present, even though the adults had stopped using caffeine.  

To me, it doesn’t seem like the best choice to have young kids and adolescents drinking coffee, given all the good reasons not to.


“Effects of Adolescent Caffeine Consumption on Cocaine Sensitivity”

“Health Effects of Energy Drinks on Children, Adolescents, and Young Adult”

Report From the Expert Working Group on the Safety Aspects of Dietary Caffeine

What is a Recovery Run and Why Should You Do Them?

Recovery Runs: What are they and why should you do them?

Recovery runs are the easiest runs you’ll do all week. They are short runs done at a VERY easy effort. Leave the running watch at home and slow down to smell the roses!

Whilst recovery runs are the easiest runs on your program, it doesn’t make them any less important than any of the other types of runs you’re doing – long runs, tempo runs and interval training. Skipping them is not an option for anyone serious about getting faster. Recovery runs allow you to run more, without increasing your risk of injury. And up to a point, the more you run, the faster you’ll be in your goal race.

Recovery Runs Can Make You a Faster Runner

Training Effort

To understand the importance of the recovery run, we need to understand that there are two somewhat competing elements of the training equation that make us faster: training intensity or “stress”, and training volume.

Your body will be under stress in sessions that test your current fitness levels – long runs which push you further than the last long run, and higher intensity runs such as interval sessions, hills sessions and tempo runs. A session that leaves you pretty tired is a session that’s stressed your body. And that’s a good thing. When you place a training stress on your body, and you’re regularly stressing it, pushing the limits of your fitness, your body adapts by getting stronger, ready for the next bout. With consistent well-planned training, you’ll be better able to resist the causes of fatigue in your next session, and ultimately your goal race. The gains made from session to session may be so small that you don’t notice them, but over time, they add up.

Training Volume

Increasing your training volume-the sheer amount of running you do- will make you faster, even if you never do any hard workouts such as speed sessions or long runs. The reason is that running efficiency increases with training volume.

Running is a motor skill. And like any other motor skill, to do it, your brain and muscles need to communicate. Training helps you do develop efficient communication between your brain and your muscles. The more efficient the communication, the faster you can run for a lower energy expenditure. The amount of energy expended for a given speed, is called running efficiency, or running economy. Practicing running improves the communication between the brain and the muscles. You develop your skill as a runner through repetition. Like any other motor skill, like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, the more you do it, the better you will be at it.

From the point of view of getting faster, a high volume of training, as well as training that places a lot of stress on your body, are equally important. But… you can’t run like a bat out of hell every time you run and keep piling on the volume at the same time, so how do you increase your running volume (and therefore your running economy) without upping the risk of injury?

Enter the Recovery Run

Throwing recovery runs into your training program allows you to increase your total volume. They are very easy. You should not need more recovery after a recovery run. They allow you to get the most out of your other workouts – speed sessions, long runs, tempo runs – whilst also increasing the amount of time you are running for. That is, the amount of time you are practicing running, and therefore getting better at it.

Fitness adaptations occur relative to how much time you spend exercising past the point of initial fatigue. (So, when the going starts to get a bit tough, is when the real fitness adaptations start to occur). Your harder runs that challenge you either by their pace or duration take you well beyond that point of initial fatigue. You do spend some time at the beginning of the session to get to that point though.

Recovery runs, strategically placed in your program, are performed entirely in a fatigued state – they therefore boost your fitness despite being shorter or “easier” than your harder key workouts. Because you’re mostly doing them in an already fatigued state, recovery runs will often not feel easy.

In any kind of workout, once you reach a fatigued state, the brain will alter the pattern of muscle recruitment. It tries to avoid using the tired muscle fibres and instead recruits fresher muscles that are not so tired, simply since they are not the preferred muscle fibres used to perform that movement

Essentially the brain is forced out of its “comfort zone” of normal muscle recruitment. If you want to keep running at the same pace, the brain needs to circumvent the tired muscles to enable you to recruit new fresh muscles.  By placing your body under stress, either in a hard workout or in a recovery run when you are already fatigued before you start, you force your brain to find more efficient ways to recruit muscles. You’ll be running more efficiently.

Tips for When to Use Recovery Runs

Generally, if you run within 24 hours of a hard workout, the second run should be a recovery run.

If you’re running 3 times a week, generally you don’t need to include recovery runs. Each workout can be a harder workout, with a rest day in between. Note this does not apply to beginners, people coming back from injury, or coming back from a break in training.

Experienced runners won’t need to include recovery runs in the base phase of their training when they are not doing super exhaustive long runs, or high intensity workouts. When you do get to that stage, you do want to include recovery runs in your program-the ratio can be as high as 1 recovery run for each hard workout you do – this will depend on how frequently you run – sometimes you’ll have a rest day after a hard workout, rather than a recovery run.

For the most part, recovery runs won’t be fast or long. The actual length will depend on how much mileage you’re already doing. Recovery runs should be easy enough and short enough not to leave you feeling tired for your next hard work out.

You won’t always feel bad during a recovery run (good to know).  Even if you feel like you’re running very easy, don’t push the pace. Keep it at conversation pace. If you can’t belt out the first verse of the national anthem, then you’re running too fast.

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