Caffeine Cortisol Effects: Drinking Coffee & Reducing Stress

How can you still drink coffee and manage your stress levels?

Here's what to know + some coffee and cortisol tips that can help!

Let's set the scene: You have a busy day ahead of you with errands to run, tasks to conquer, and lots of work to be done. Maybe, you slept poorly the night before and now you’re feeling stressed and tired. You definitely want to have a cup of coffee to get yourself charged up and ready to go. However, you're worried that coffee is going to cause you to feel even more stressed out because of the caffeine content. What are you supposed to do? 

Yes, stress & exhaustion can make you crave caffeine. No, you don’t have to quit coffee. 

While it is true that caffeine can impact cortisol levels, there are plenty of ways to enjoy your morning Java without spiking your stress. Caffeine is known to alter the cortisol responses in our body. Since coffee contains caffeine, it's important to understand how you can still consume your favorite morning brew without having to deal with any negative side effects. 

The good news is that you can practice mindfulness and prioritize your health to reduce daily stress without having to give up coffee. Here, we will go over what you need to know about coffee, cortisol, and stress management when drinking caffeine!

What is the healthiest way to drink coffee without spiking your cortisol? 

Avoid drinking coffee on an empty stomach and consume fiber and protein within 10 minutes of having coffee. Leading a healthy lifestyle (walking daily, staying in a reasonable BMI range, and eating a balanced diet with plenty of protein and fiber) can help you manage cortisol levels as well. 

Other ways to reduce or prevent a cortisol spike include: 

  • Low-impact exercise like walking 
  • Ashwagandha, magnesium, and Rhodiola supplements
  • Mindfulness and deep breathing 
  • Getting enough sleep 
  • Fiber and protein powders or supplements 
  • Managing your blood sugar levels 

Can coffee spike cortisol?

Drinking caffeinated coffee on an empty stomach may spike cortisol levels and create a stress response in some individuals. To prevent this, you can either eat a meal with your morning coffee, or, mix protein powder, soluble fiber, and insoluble fiber, in with that first cup of Joe. Also, consider taking a brisk walk when you have your coffee, practicing mindfulness with deep breathing, or looking into supplements that help your body manage cortisol in general.  

There are many benefits of adding fiber to coffee, and you can read about them here! Or, read on below to find out how cortisol, caffeine, stress, and other factors can be better dealt with by changing your daily habits. 

Why does caffeine impact cortisol levels? 

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the human body. This hormone comes from the adrenal cortex and is released as a response to stress and low blood glucose concentration. Cortisol can function to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis and may also suppress the immune system. Cortisol also assists in the metabolic use of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. *

Caffeine has been known to produce certain cortisol responses in the human body. This is especially true if you consume caffeine on an empty stomach. So, if you are trying to maintain your cortisol levels, get a healthy dose of protein and fiber before drinking coffee or consuming caffeine. Low-impact exercise is also a smart way to manage stress and cortisol. 

Does the caffeine in coffee affect men and women differently?

While there isn't a ton of research on this subject, certain studies indicate that yes, caffeine may have different effects in the bodies of women versus men. According to an article published by the National Library of Medicine, in men, caffeine may elevate cortisol through mechanisms that stimulate the central nervous system. However, in women, caffeine may interact with peripheral metabolic mechanisms. So, the effects of caffeine on your health can vary whether you are male or female. 

Does cortisol make you gain weight? 

Yes, elevated cortisol and stress *can lead to weight gain. Although coffee can be used to lose weight, cortisol can lead to weight gain. Since cortisol stimulates the metabolism, it can increase your appetite and elevated cortisol levels can lead to craving sweet, salty, or fatty foods. The trick is to get the weight loss benefits of coffee without counterbalancing things via the negative effects of cortisol.

Does exercise increase cortisol?  

It depends on your metabolism, various health factors, whether you are a man or a woman, the type of exercise you are engaging in, and other important components. Moderate to high-intensity exercise has been known to provoke an increase in cortisol circulation. However, low-impact exercises, like walking or swimming, can actually decrease cortisol levels. 

One way to test things is to exercise and see how hungry you are after. Are you starving after your workout and craving a milkshake? If so, you may be experiencing a cortisol spike. Or, maybe you feel less hungry, calmer, and happier. In that case, you've likely worked out in a way that decreased your cortisol output. 

Cortisol, Caffeine, Coffee, and Keeping Your Stress Low: The Bottom Line

When it comes down to it, drinking coffee should not be a problem as long as you are leading a healthy lifestyle. However, flying out the door with a cup of coffee in hand on an empty stomach and jumping into a stressful workday isn't good for your health in any way, shape, or form. 

There are many ways to help manage the cortisol your body makes, whether you’re drinking a caffeinated beverage or not and they all involve taking good care of your body. If you are trying to reduce cortisol, add fiber and protein to your daily caffeine routine. Also, engage in stress-reducing or mindfulness exercises like deep breathing, meditation, or creating a routine to reduce stress every day in your life. 

Finally, consider walking or moving around when you feel stressed to help work the cortisol out of your system and improve your health. Low-impact exercises like walking and swimming can be fantastic for your body in many ways, and if you have a fresh cup of delicious coffee along with some protein and fiber beforehand, all the better! Delicious, fresh-roasted flavored coffee (like this) can mask the taste of any supplements you add to your coffee if the flavor is something you’re concerned about. 


*This article (and any others on OneGreatCoffee.Com) is/are for general information purposes only and not intended to give medical advice or guidance. All health information is gathered using online research only or based on the experiences of the writers and meant for general information purposes, not to replace the advice of a licensed physician. Before consuming caffeine or changing your daily health regimen, consult your physician.  


  • Chuck

    Why no mention of decaf? There are many good decafs out there…

  • Crystal G.

    Very interesting information concerning coffee and cortisol! Thank You!

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