June 05, 2018

Fat & Fasting: Should You Drink Butter Coffee?

I’ve been wondering lately about how butter coffee (inspired, of course, by Bulletproof coffee) in the morning affects intermittent fasting and my general routine of not eating other food until after 2. 

Now, I’m not super strict about going until 2 pm without eating, or doing a 16/8 or 18/6 or warrior diet or any of the variations of intermittent fasting.  It happens a few times a week, but not out of any specific intent.  Still, I’m curious about fat and fasting. 

Does butter coffee break the benefits of intermittent fasting?

There’s all kinds of internet geekery surrounding fasting, specifically Intermittent Fasting, and I told myself for a while that the butter coffee didn’t count. Eventually I got curious enough to sit and really think about it.

There are some obvious points:  A “fast” means no food.  Water is fine and occasional pinches of salt, but that’s it.  I know, I know.  Lots of different fasts are out there, from bone broth fasts to juice fasts (sugar it up, yo!), but I think you’re kidding yourself if you say you’re fasting when you’re taking in calories. 

Going without food on a water fast.

With that in mind, yes, butter coffee breaks a fast.  Sheesh.

The big question here isn’t what fasting is (it’s obvious:  No dang food!), but what we’re trying to achieve.  Once we start to follow this line, it gets more interesting and useful to discuss the whole butter coffee, fasting, and fat burning issues.

In general, intermittent fasting is used to achieve 3 goals: 

  • Weight loss
  • Physiological (with a strong emphasis on hormonal) health
  • Performance enhancement. 
Let’s go through each of ‘em and explore how butter coffee (and especially the super-delicious variety I make at home) might affect the cycle of intermittent fasting as it applies to each goal.

People fast for different reasons, usually weight loss, muscle gain, or increase physical performance.

First, weight loss.  You probably want the BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): If you’re fasting for weight loss, then drinking butter coffee in the morning probably won’t affect the benefits of intermittent fasting for you. 

Your aim with IF (intermittent fasting) for weight loss is to

  1. Decrease caloric intake
  2. Restrict caloric intake to certain times
  3. Upregulate (that just means convincing your body to increase production) beneficial hormones and energy systems.

Butter coffee adds calories, but in the form of fat.  Paradoxically, those fat calories aren’t what make you fat, especially because they’re not paired with high sugar or carbohydrates.  Additionally, the pairing of fat and caffeine seems to help in burning more fat, and for me, in smoothing out the effect caffeine has on my system. 

That’s an N of 1, but I’ve heard about that same "smoothing" effect anecdotally from a bunch of other folks.  The bottom line is that it works for me.  Black coffee + me is a disaster unless I immediately go for a hard workout. 

Weight loss is more complicated than counting calories.  In the case of buttered coffee, the extra calories from fat seem just fine.

In the second instance of restricting calories to certain times, my feeling is that butter coffee helps with this.  Once I drink it I’m not truly hungry until late in the day.  Sure, I’ll get all emotional and eat based on being a rudderless sucker when it comes to available food and something to do, but I’m not actually hungry until well past 5 pm.

Not actually hungry until after 5 pm

In the third case, that of upregulating hormones and energy burning systems for weight loss, this is basically butter coffee’s claim to fame and extensively covered by all kinds of questionable but enthusiastic amateurs. 

I think it’s pretty safe to say that drinking butter coffee for most people isn’t going to work against their weight loss goals.  In case you’re wondering, I’m not a doctor and this does not constitute medical advice. 

Ok, so that’s weight loss. 

Basically, butter coffee for weight loss is a benefit, as long as the caffeine and fat agree with your gut.  Those three have a glorious and joyful relationship in my body, but my web developer’s gut is markedly different from mine, and caffeine plus fat basically puts him in the bathroom.  Hell, maybe that’s a good thing for cleaning out his system, but that’s another story.  Obviously, your results will vary. 

Now we come to physiology and whether or not butter coffee in the morning breaks up the intermittent fast in a way detrimental to the goal.  Let’s start with the biggest picture that’s still useful:  Humans have a complex variety of reactions with regards to hormones, food, and the environment. 

Hormones, food, and the environment all have an effect on each other in a reinforcing cycle

If you’re generally healthy, butter coffee seems to promote more beneficial than detrimental observable reactions in my experience.  Again, that’s not an absolute, there’s very little science investigating that, and I’ll bet anything I get at least one self righteous screamer telling me that this is irresponsible advice.  If that’s you, or you’re worried about this, don’t drink butter coffee. 

With that in mind, let’s talk about what we’re aiming for physiologically with intermittent fasting.  When you fast intermittently, you’re basically starting to follow your evolutionary blueprint.  Most people don’t follow their blueprint, which leads to all kinds of problems, many of which can be addressed by coming back to the “2 million years of evolutionary pressure” perspective.

Again, the idea of what happens at a chemical, hormonal, muscular, and gut level has been exhaustively covered through the internet. The basic thrust is that stopping eating for a while gives your gut and body time to rest, recharge, and prepare to digest the next round of food.

This is probably the most likely candidate in the reasons not to drink butter coffee when intermittent fasting, as there’s no pretending that butter coffee doesn’t need digesting. 

In fact, the recipe for butter coffee that I use includes 3 different fats (butter, coconut oil, and cacao butter) 4 different powders (reishi mushrooms, maca powder, lions mane mushrooms, and either gelatin or collagen) and an egg, and there’s no way all of that doesn’t need energy to digest or isn’t a disruption to some hormonal and physiological systems that would otherwise get to rest if I didn’t drink it.

So, in the case of hormone balancing and general physiological disruption, butter coffee as part of an intermittent fasting routine probably isn’t the best thing for you. 

Still, I’ve been drinking it for a few years now, am ultra stoked with how I (in the immortal words of Robb Wolf) “Look, feel, and perform” and the few blood tests I’ve done come back showing me generally healthy. 

Finally, let's talk about how breaking your intermittent fast with butter coffee might be a performance enhancement. 

This is where butter coffee seems to have the strongest case for being used in conjunction with a general pattern of intermittent fasting. 

If the goal of IF is performance, and performance is achieved by in general having a happy empty stomach and lots of useful energy, then butter coffee is (in my experience) a superb addition to the performance enhancement routine.

If you’ve been zoning out as you read this and daydreaming about paleo desserts or how to justify adding a Cacao Now to your evening routine like Lee, let’s sum up this whole thing:

By the book, butter coffee breaks a fast.  This would be the de jure side of the argument. 

However, the world we live isn’t one of strict rules, so the de facto side states that despite it breaking the rules of intermittent fasting, overall, adding butter coffee to your routine is probably a net benefit.  Happy drinking, amigos.

If you want a video on how I geek out on making my butter coffee every morning, it’s here. 

If you want my secret source for perfect cacao butter cups that you can add to your butter coffee and get that chocolate flavor without any sugar, reach out via our Contact page.

If you'd like a full on course in fasting, including more than just the usual "Don't eat and consult your doctor before putting on your underwear", check out our Fasting Bundle or Fasting Series downloads.

To excellent mornings, delicious coffee, and your health!


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Nik Hawks


Nik Hawks helps run the show at Paleo Treats. Fascinated by humans in all their strange glory, Nik is harnessed in and pulling hard in pursuit of excellence with the rest of the PT Crew. Enjoy!

Too much reading...
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Too Much Reading...How About Dessert?

1 Comment


June 11, 2018

I researched IF after trying it for a while and found an NIH research paper that said IF does hold promise for weight loss, but also seems to lower testosterone and IGF-1 levels. They recommended additional studies to understand why this was happening and it’s long-term impact. Something to consider – butter coffee aside. It shouldn’t be hard to find the paper if you just Google those terms.

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