Few of us care to live without coffee, yet it supposedly has negative health effects: dehydration, caffeine dependence, interference with sleep, and high blood pressure, to name a few. At the same time, others tout the health benefits of coffee, such as its antioxidants. Which should we believe?

As it turns out, they’re both right. In moderation, coffee has many health benefits. You might be surprised to learn that coffee can even boost your fitness gym workouts. Here’s how.

1. Coffee boosts mental alertness to get you moving early in the morning.

We don’t drink coffee just for the taste: it’s a proven pick-me-up that helps burn off the grogginess of sleep and get us moving in the morning. If you find it difficult to get out the door to the fitness center before work, try sipping a cup of coffee first thing.

2. Coffee keeps you (ahem) regular so it doesn’t interfere with exercise.

Exercise isn’t the only type of movement coffee will help you with. Let’s face it – the rest of the day just goes better once we’ve gotten that important business out of the way.

3. Coffee reduces your sense of exertion and muscle pain during workouts.

Both caffeine and exercise release endorphins, so your workouts may feel a little easier after a cup of coffee. A University of Illinois study also shows that caffeine acts as a pain reliever for your muscles, so you’ll be able to push harder through strength training sessions before muscle fatigue sets in. This can mean faster gains in strength and endurance.

4. Coffee can make you faster.

Want to run, punch, jump, and react faster? Coffee will heighten your reaction times and coordination for peak performance, so grab a cup on your way to a race or competition.

5. Coffee can help you burn more calories post-workout.

A study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism indicated that athletes who drank coffee burned 15 percent more calories in the three hours following their workouts than those who didn’t. Talk about an after-burn!

6. Post-workout coffee can help you recover from a tough workout.

The American College of Sports Medicine released a study that shows that post-workout, coffee triggers anti-inflammatory substances in the body. Another study from the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that a carbohydrate/caffeine combination after a depleting workout more than doubles muscle glycogen (stored energy) levels for hours later. In other words, you’ll be ready to hit the fitness gym again that much sooner.

7. Coffee helps preserve muscle.

As we age, our muscle mass and strength decrease naturally. Studies show coffee can help preserve fitness of the diaphragm (the main breathing muscle) and skeletal muscles, reducing atrophy and the chances of injuries later in life.

So what’s the “right” amount of coffee?

Health experts recommend 4.5 mg (and no more than 6 mg) per kilogram of body weight each day. For a 150-pound woman, that’s 12 to 16 ounces of fresh-brewed coffee. Most of us drink at least this much already. Coffee itself is very low calorie, but it’s the sugar and cream we add that can get us in trouble. Try using almond milk for creamer and natural sweeteners or cinnamon.

Dehydration and Sleep Concerns

Coffee can be dehydrating, but our bodies adapt to the amount we imbibe on a regular basis. Consistency is key — if you drink two cups a day, always drink two cups a day and no more. If you’re concerned about dehydration, drink more water to compensate for it. Finally, to keep it from interfering with your sleep patterns, cut off caffeine about six hours before bedtime.