Loading... Please wait...

33Fuel Sports Nutrition - Blog

​Is decaf coffee good or bad?

Posted by James Eacott on

Decaf coffee is a popular option for those who love the taste but don’t want the caffeine side effects. But how is caffeine removed from coffee? We set out to uncover the process behind decaffeination and, armed with this information, ask whether decaf coffee is good or bad

33fuel decaf coffee good or bad - ultimate daily greens

To kick the day off on the right foot (even before putting the coffee on) we heap one spoonful Ultimate Daily Greens into water for a nutrient dense hit of vitamins and minerals

Caffeine is found in a range of foods including tea and chocolate, but coffee is the most widely consumed source.

What is decaf coffee?

Simple: coffee without the caffeine.

Coffee aficionados may notice the difference in taste between regular and decaf coffee, but many don’t. The same beans are used for both regular and decaf coffee, but those on the road to decaf have their caffeine removed before any roasting or grounding takes place.

The end result is a nutritionally near-identical drink, but with ~2-3% of the caffeine. This reduces the total caffeine in a standard cup of coffee from around 80-100mg to just 2-4mg.

Thus, decaf coffee appeals to those who love coffee but don’t want the side effects of caffeine.

We all love a morning coffee, but is the decaf version doing you more harm than good?

But have you ever wondered how caffeine is removed from a coffee bean?

How is decaf coffee made?

The original process of decaffeination involved steaming coffee beans within various acids before using the solvent benzene to remove the caffeine. Benzene is a carcinogen, which is worrying because it’s formed in your body when Vitamin C is combined with sodium benzoate…which is found in ordinary sports nutrition.

What’s really astonishing is that the techniques described above are “mostly still used today”, says Chris Stemman, executive director of the British Coffee Foundation.

Nowadays, the decaffeination of coffee beans is performed by specialist companies (not the coffee producer or seller) and the fundamental process is generally the same for them all:

  1. The green bean is soaked in hot water
  2. The bean is then soaked in a solvent solution - usually either methylene chloride (a paint-stripper and degreasing agent) or ethyl acetate (a key ingredient in nail polish remover) – which extracts the caffeine

33fuel decaf coffee good or bad - chemicals used in paint

The chemical used in the decaffeination process are also used in paint stripper – this rings alarm bells for us

As ethyl acetate derives from fruits and vegetables, coffee companies are technically allowed to market their beans as ‘naturally decaffeinated’, despite having lingered in a solution better known for stripping nails of their paint.

This is a little like ‘natural flavouring’, which can use the word ‘natural’ because it’s derived from natural sources, regardless of the thousands of chemicals that are added to it.

Is decaf coffee bad for health?

Some argue that the amount of solvent that remains in decaffeinated coffee beans is so small that it poses such a small health issue.

However, it’s easy for the decaffeination process to raise red flags for coffee drinkers. After all, nobody in their right mind would consume an ingredient that’s been soaked in a solution whose real calling in life is to strip walls of their paint.

A bit like many sports nutrition ingredients that are also found in lube and cosmetics but still claim to be an elixir for athletic performance, can decaf coffee really be good for health when it’s manufactured using such methods?

33fuel decaf coffee good or bad - in search of optimal health

For anyone in search of optimal health, why consume a food or drink that’s so highly processed and mixed with chemicals, particularly when there are viable alternatives

At this stage, it should be noted that food standards authorities around the world have deemed the use of methylene chloride and ethyl acetate as safe, due to the miniscule amounts left in the coffee afterwards.

But (without wanting to sound too cynical) let’s not presume that national food agencies are solely concerned with the population’s general health – there’s often other factors at play that dictate whether ingredients are given the green light or not.

Regular coffee benefits over decaf

Although decaf coffee all but eliminates the chances of jitters and sleep disruption, it clearly doesn’t deliver those benefits which are linked to caffeine, such as:

  • Elevated mood
  • Improved concentration, reaction time and mental function
  • Lower RPE during high intensity exercise
  • Increased metabolic rate and fat burning

Caffeine has a 6-hour half-life meaning that 50% of the caffeine from a coffee consumed at 3pm will still be in your system at 9pm, so keep consumption limited after noon and sleep won’t be disrupted. As we know, disrupted sleep messes with performance and recovery.

The decaf solution - the Swiss Water Method

If you’re like us and simply want to avoid normal decaf coffee, there is a solution. We’ve become huge fans of coffee decaffeinated by the Swiss Water Method.

33fuel decaf coffee good or bad - the swiss water method

The Swiss Water Method produces a wonderful decaffeinated bean – great for health, deeply flavoursome and environmentally friendly

This 100% chemical-free process utilises carbon to extract caffeine. Here’s how:

  1. Beans are soaked in hot water
  2. They are then soaked in Green Coffee Extract (GCE). GCE solution contains the water-soluble components of green coffee except for the caffeine and it’s this difference in concentration between the caffeinated bean and caffeine-free solution that, under pressure, causes the extraction of caffeine
  3. Once the GCE is saturated with caffeine, it’s percolated through carbon absorbers which draw the caffeine molecules from the solution
  4. The now caffeine-free solution is added back to the beans and the process is repeated until the original beans are 99.9% free from caffeine

It’s a laborious process, but we must say we’re mighty impressed. We’ve often found the flavour of decaf coffee to be lacking, but this stuff is incredible.

Decaffeinated coffee – the bottom line

Knowing how and when to use caffeine for athletic performance is important. It’s not a case of more is better, but once you’re in the habit of maximising the gains, we’d really recommend avoiding the normal decaf version.

If you love the taste, aroma and warmth of coffee and want a strong decaf option, source beans which have been decaffeinated using the Swiss Water Method instead.

33fuel decaf coffee good or bad - chia energy gel

While some gels are jumping on the caffeine bandwagon, our chia energy gel uses only real, whole ingredients. Just four of them in fact: chia seeds, coconut palm sugar, organic vanilla and Himalayan pink salt

More performance boosting content

From the Vlog – How to race at an elite level AND keep your job, with Paul Lunn

From the podcast – Running 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days with Susannah Gill

From the Blog

Oral health and weight loss

Sports nutrition ingredients - now in shampoo, lube and cosmetics

Coffee and athletic performance

Better sleep for athletes

Sodium benzoate in sports nutrition

Natural flavouring doesn’t always mean good

How to exercise when you’re feeling low

​Couples who sweat together, stay together

Training with your partner provides great bonding time, boosts athletic performance and even improves your sex life. This Valentine’s Day ditch the solo session, grab your significant other and see why couples who sweat together, stay togetherEroica protein bar is the perfect protein bar for couples – each pack contains two 50g bars, loaded with natural [...]

Read More »

Music to enhance cycling performance

While many of our favourite cycling routes are shrouded in fog, pelted with hail, doused with drizzle or layered with ice, we find ourselves all too often on the turbo trainer. It may be painfully dull but, as you’ll discover, science shows the right music can really enhance cycling performanceFor all your indoor training needs, Better [...]

Read More »

Podcast 82: Gut health 101 with Ross Austen

On the 33Fuel podcast this week, we talk gut health, kombucha, fermented food and Team GB bobsledding with Ross Austen. Hear how lifestyle, diet and exercise impact gut health and what small changes you can make to create a healthy microbiomeListen to Ross Austen on the 33Fuel PodcastA former bobsleigh athlete on the GB development [...]

Read More »

4 strength training gains for marathon runners

Once marathon runners incorporate strength training into their schedule, performance skyrockets. Here's the four main strength training gains that marathon runners can expectIf you're going to incorporate strength training into your marathon schedule, make sure you're recovering like a pro. Premium Protein delivers 20g protein per serving making it a convenient, cost-effective and tasty recovery fuel Download [...]

Read More »

Podcast 81: indoor cycling debate

Is indoor training the key to achieving your best cycling performance or is it the work of the devil? This episode of the 33Fuel podcast brings together bike fit experts Jules and Phil from CycleFit to discuss the indoor cycling debateListen to Phil and Jules of CycleFit on the 33Fuel PodcastExpert bike-fitters Phil and Jules joined [...]

Read More »

​How to exercise when you’re feeling low

Whether you’re depressed, suffering with S.A.D or temporarily lost your mojo, it’s normal to go through phases of not wanting to exercise. We hope these tips on how to exercise when you’re feeling low help you get the best from yourself when you’re not 100%The immune system is closely linked to mental health. Packed with powerful [...]

Read More »

​Podcast 80: World Marathon Challenge champion Susannah Gill

We’re thrilled to welcome 2019 World Marathon Challenge champion and record holder Susannah Gill onto this episode of the 33Fuel podcast. Hear how she trained, avoided injuries, kept motivated and learn how you can step out of your own comfort zoneListen to Susannah Gill on the 33Fuel PodcastThe 7x7x7 World Marathon Challenge is a truly remarkable [...]

Read More »

​Oral health and weight loss

Maintaining a healthy mouth isn’t just about preventing trips to the dentist - the mouth is a great window into your overall health and there’s a major link between oral health and weight loss than goes way beyond the sheer volume of food going inWith its processed sugars and sweeteners, ordinary sports nutrition isn’t promoting [...]

Read More »

Podcast 79: Win at winter training with Taylor Thomas

Endurance coach Taylor Thomas is this week’s guest on the 33Fuel podcast. In our conversation, Taylor shares how to win the winter training battle. Discover how to structure winter training to reap huge gains in summer. If you’re looking to give your winter training a boost and learn from one of the world’s best, you’re [...]

Read More »

33Fuel, the new home of 33Shake, Learn More >