I Took the Coffee Challenge and Here's What Happened

Do you ever wonder how much coffee actually affects your health? Does it really wake you up, keep you up, and sometimes make your heart go pitter-patter? To find out, I decided to conduct a highly (un)scientific experiment. This quest came about in the spirit of National Coffee Day, which was Sept. 29 -- although every day is Coffee Day in my world.

I've been a coffee imbiber almost daily for the last 15 years, and into health and fitness the last six years, so when the Lumoid people offered to lend me one of their fitness tracker watches, I was game for this test. Lumoid is a gadget rental and try-before-you-buy company that allows U.S customers to test drive gadgets before committing to a purchase. This was my chance to check my health stats all day, with and without coffee. Some studies claim coffee is a miracle drug and others that it's poison — so what's my actual experience?

I used to practically hook myself up to a coffee IV, but these days, I can hardly drink more than a cup, maybe two, in a day. Regardless, I am irritable if I don't get that cup first thing in the morning. There's truth to the cliche, "But First, Coffee." I've attended coffee conventions, contests, and written many coffee articles, including a USA Today multimedia package. And below, you're looking at the proud owner of an orange-kitty-crochet coffee cup cozy. I grind my own beans every morning (or let's be honest, my boyfriend usually does this job first, because I need an injection of coffee before I can do anything...quite the conundrum).

I am so in love with my kitty cozy. Get it here. (photo by Amy Sowder)

So as an established pro-coffee person, the self-imposed, non-coffee day was making me pre-irritable. The plan was to track my heart rate, sleep, and other fitness measures throughout the day: one day with coffee and one day without. Well ... I caved on the second day. I had to have coffee that morning. It was an early morning after a late night. I felt like I'd been smushed by a semi-tractor-trailer in my pre-coffee state.

As I analyzed my results from three days of tracking, there's one thing I had to consider: I didn't exercise on my coffee days, but I did go for a run on the day I abstained. So a higher heart rate on a day with no caffeine could equal the same as a caffeine-induced heart rate. Also, I noticed how much walking as part of my commute helps my general fitness. Taking into account my sustained higher heart rate, Fitbit considers my speed-walking as I head to appointments exercise. Yay!

I have got to say: the Fitbit can be addictive, what with all this checking out how many steps I've taken throughout the day, how many calories I've burned, how many flights of stairs I've climbed, and how many miles I've walked. 

The Fitbit Charge HR Activity Tracker (photo by Amy Sowder)

If fitness tracker data makes you yawn, then skip over the next part and head to the conclusion. But why have you read this far already? (Hi Mom!) Here's the scoop on what I recorded during this pseudo-experiment.

Coffee Day: Monday

(=82.2 average heart rate for the day, 19 floors, covered 4.45 miles, burned 2,192 calories, 64 mins exercise, 6.36 hours sleep)

7:30 a.m.: Charging Fitbit - Wake up

11:30 a.m.: 64 heart rate - After breakfast and 1 coffee, sitting at computer

12:30 p.m.: 102 - Commute walking

2:30 p.m.: 62 - After lunch and 2nd cup of coffee, at computer

7 p.m.: 108 - Finished work, walking to a chocolate tasting

8:30 p.m.: 65 - After attending the chocolate event; (chocolate coma)

10 p.m.: 92 - After dinner out and walking to the subway train

1 a.m.: (forgot to record it) Bed

2nd (oops) Coffee Day: Tuesday

(73.7 average heart rate, climbed 10 floors, covered 5.15 miles, burned 2,358 calories, completed 66 mins exercise, had 5.52 hours sleep)

7:15 a.m.: Wake up, hit snooze alarm once

8 a.m: 93 heart rate - Getting ready fast, post-coffee

9 a.m.: 66 - Sitting on the subway train

11 a.m.: 84 - Walking, second coffee, errands

3 p.m.: 56 - Sitting at my desk at the computer after lunch

5:30 p.m.: 66 - Riding subway, exhausted

9:30 p.m.: 77 - Post -dinner, exhausted, continued working, then Netflix

3 a.m.: (forgot) Bed

Non-Coffee Day: Wednesday

(84.6 heart rate average, climbed 18 floors, covered 7.56 miles, burned 2,709 calories, completed 91 mins exercise, had 7:38 hours sleep)

10:45 a.m.: 66 heart rate - Breakfast on the couch

Noon: 75 - Lunch, working

4 p.m.: 66 - After a doctor's appointment

5:30 p.m.: 159 - Running "Random Hills" on the treadmill

6:30 p.m.: 90 - Subway ride, work-dinner out

9 pm: 65 - Arriving home

11 p.m.: 71 - Bed

I can't tell if I go to bed earlier on non-coffee days because the caffeine doesn't keep me up, or because I'm so exhausted from previous late nights. It was absolutely fascinating (most definitely just to me) to view my sleeping patterns on a chart and see how often I woke up or was restless. One night I was restless 11 times and another just once.

The Fitbit app for my cell phone makes it easy to sync up my watch's data and check out all my stats, like sleep patterns. (photo by Amy Sowder)

It would be laughable to make any kind of scientific conclusion based on such a short-term trial. My subjective conclusion: I love my morning coffee, and nobody better take it away from me. Yes, I could sleep more and have a more regular bedtime and wake-up time. I knew that already. I had no idea how much I was "restless" and how that could affect why I feel so beat after having a decent amount of sleep.

I think I'd prefer to have a sports-tracker watch (Fitbit has one) because I'm more interested in tracking and analyzing the data from my regular runs than my daily life. There is an exercise component to this particular Fitbit Charge HR, but I want that part to be front and center. I can't make up my mind which watch (TomTom, Garmin, Fitbit, Apple Watch) would be best, so I've bought none so far. I guess that's where Lumoid would come in. The company's normal process for the wearables try-before-you-buy program allows customers to choose up to three different wearables, try them out for a week, send them back, and then either pay a rental fee (starts at $35), or purchase the wearable they loved the most at retail price from Lumoid.

Still, I'm having separation anxiety about my MapMyRun app on my iPhone: My old running buddies from back home are on it. I love continuing that connection. But I also want to listen to several podcasts on my long runs and my cell phone battery can't last until the end of the run if I use both apps. I might just have to get a wearable fitness tracker.

I'm pretty sure there's no going back from a wearable. Still, what a tiny thrill it is to feel that vibrating buzz on my wrist after I've reached my daily goal of 10,000 steps. In nine days, I walked the distance of a marathon without even realizing it.

I deserve a coffee for that.

(photo by Amy Sowder)

Peace out.

About the Author

Amy Sowder

NYC-based multimedia journalist focusing on food and fitness. I was formerly the assistant editor at Chowhound, and I write freelance articles for publications such as USA Today, Brooklyn Magazine, and Westchester Magazine. I also assist award-winning bloggers and authors of cookbooks such as Smitten Kitchen and Toast.