Caffeine is the most commonly used “drug” by our entire population but its use in sport as an ergogenic aid is also high.

A recent study looked into the presence of caffeine in post-competition urine samples taken for drug testing (Coso JD et al, 2011). The results revealed 3 out of 4 elite athletes use caffeine as part of their pre-competition routine. A new study looking at football performance with caffeine supplementation shows why its use is so high and also sheds some new light on the amounts required to see a positive result.

The latest work used semi-professional soccer players and gathered information using jump height scores, repeated sprint tests, and GPS data for a simulated training game (2 x 40minute halves).

The players received either an energy drink containing 3mg/kg bodyweight caffeine, or a caffeine free beverage 60 minutes before exercise commenced. Importantly both drinks were sugar free and the athletes had a habitually low caffeine intake. Previous studies looking at simulated team sport activities have found positive results but at higher caffeine doses. These have been as high as 6mg/kg bodyweight.

The results of this study showed;

  • A greater mean peak running speed during the repeated sprints.
  • An greater average jump height achieved, which may have a direct impact upon gameplay as the skill of winning a header would be considered a positive for performance.
  • A greater distance covered at both the high-intensity running and sprinting zones from the GPS data during total matchplay.

Caffeine was included on the banned list from 1984-2004. During this time a threshold of 12 micrograms caffeine per ml urine for testing was used to deem a test failed. Interestingly this study shows that using a dose of 3mg/kg cafffeine only produces a mean level of 4.1 micrograms caffeine per ml urine. This shows that significantly positive results can be achieved with levels of caffeine well below this level. So while caffeine levels have been monitored by the World anti-doping agency (WADA) since 2004 when it was removed from the banned list, if it were ever re-introduced, serious thought would have to be put into where the threshold be placed.

Take home message;

Caffeine has been studied greatly over the last 5 years, and there are a number of positive studies in individual sports and team sports. This study has shown there to be potential for lower doses to be used while a significant effect upon performance is still gained. Importantly you should always practice the use of caffeine during training sessions prior to use in matchplay as each individual is different. There can be negative effects felt and it is best not to find that out on a gameday!

Del Coso J, et al. “Effects of caffeine-containing energy drink on simulated soccer performance”. (2012) PLoS One (epub ahead of print).