Is drinking coffee on an empty stomach bad? I asked a dietitian, then tried having some water before my morning cup of Joe (per TikTok’s suggestion)—here’s what happened.
Over the years, like so many people, I’ve come to rely on caffeine. What started as a solution for groggy mornings after nights of too little sleep eventually turned into a habitual morning routine: wake up, go to the bathroom, go to the fridge, and pour a cup of ice-cold coffee into my trusty Corkcicle Tumbler (it keeps it so cold).
Now, would I say that I’m addicted to coffee first thing in the morning? Not so much. After all, on weekends, I don’t as regularly reach for a cup of joe first thing in the morning. This realization of course made me analyze my weekday morning routine. My main nagging thought on the topic? Is drinking coffee on an empty stomach really the best move for an energetic, productive day ahead? To find out, I chatted with NYC-based dietitian Jennifer Maeng. And then I did the unthinkable: I stopped drinking coffee first thing in the morning. Instead, I drank water before my coffee. Keep reading to find out what happened.
Is It Bad to Drink Coffee on an Empty Stomach?
While most people think of breakfast as the most important meal of the day, when you break the word down, you realize it’s about more than food alone. “I always liked considering the word ‘breakfast’ as quite literally breaking the fast from not eating or drinking the past eight to 10 hours [while] you were sleeping,” Maeng says. “We lose a lot of water during the night and wake up in a state of dehydration.”
Because of that, Maeng says that before reaching for food (or coffee or juice), you should reach for water. “It is ideal for you to break the fast by hydrating with water or herbal (non-caffeinated) tea first thing in the morning, and allowing your body time to rehydrate and wake up before introducing caffeine,” she says.
Although caffeine isn’t unequivocally proven to cause dehydration, Maeng points out that drinking coffee on an empty stomach can hinder your performance throughout the morning and day. “Excess caffeine intake on an empty stomach (think: multiple cups) can heighten the negative effects this stimulant can have, such as anxiety, stomach ache, and heart palpitations,” she warns. “Coffee is a diuretic as well, which actually increases the amount we urinate—when our actual goal is to replenish the water in our bodies, not excrete it.”
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t drink coffee in the morning—just that it’s best to hydrate first and keep your daily servings in mind. “According to the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should not consume more than 400 mg of caffeine per day,” Maeng points out. “For reference, one shot of espresso is about 75 mg, [one cup of coffee is about 90 mg,] and one cup of tea is about 20 to 60 mg.”
Benefits of Drinking Water Before Coffee
Wondering what the benefits of drinking water before coffee are? Where to begin? “Water is so important for the maintenance of all of our body processes,” Maeng says. “In addition to rehydrating your body, drinking water first thing in the morning helps regulate your digestive tract and help bowel movements move along smoothly first thing in the morning.” Plus, for some, this can be the perfect time to take daily supplements. (We’re big fans of taking HUM’s Gut Instinct probiotic on an empty stomach.)
Additionally, by drinking water before coffee, you’re less likely to develop uncomfortable side effects from caffeine, such as an upset stomach or lightheadedness. Furthermore, Maeng points out that by drinking water first thing in the morning, you’ll feel fuller and be able to be more mindful of how much coffee and food you consume throughout the day. Although that may not seem like that big of a deal, it can actually prevent you from over-consuming, which can lead to sugar spikes and crashes, which can be disruptive—especially at the start of the day.
Point blank: Drinking water before coffee can lend to a healthier, more comfortable start to each and every day. To prove it, I stopped drinking coffee on an empty stomach and tried water for 12 days.
My Experience Drinking Water Before Coffee for 12 Days
As someone who was always drinking coffee on an empty stomach, switching to water seemed like it’d be challenging. But like so many things, it’s all about motivation and creating an environment in which the new habit can thrive. In this case, I made it easier on myself by filling my water bottle the night before and placing it on my nightstand so that it’d be the first drink I reached for upon waking. Then, to ensure I wouldn’t simply take a sip and immediately switch to coffee, I reworked my sweat schedule and swapped my normal 5:45 p.m. Orangetheory classes for 6:05 a.m. sessions. Knowing that I wouldn’t want to head to the gym with coffee in my system (especially since it makes me have to…well, you know), this method worked.
After drinking at least 32 ounces of water (sometimes I have to refill mid-class) before my morning coffee for 12 days, I can confidently say I feel so much more energized throughout the day—not to mention less jittery. And, as Maeng said, drinking water first thing in the morning did, in fact, make me feel fuller. This has prevented me from indulging in heavy breakfasts, which often make me crash and need a nap.
There’s no doubt it’s difficult to become a morning person (especially without coffee), but making small changes at the start of your day can make a huge impact on the rest of it. When I stopped drinking coffee on an empty stomach, I realized just how beneficial it is to drink water first thing in the morning. Not only did I stop experiencing the negative side effects of caffeine (shakes and anxiety), but I also felt more energized and focused throughout the day. Plus, my nutrition has improved since I feel more balanced at the beginning of my day.
Suffice it to say, there’s something to be said about drinking water before coffee, and I for one will be sticking to this new habit. Will you join me?