The impact of caffeine on cognitive and physical performance among athletes

Caffeine is widely perceived as an energetic stimulus and is highly consumed by many individuals. The effects of this substance can be present in different physical, psychological and behavioural functions and can influence athletic performance. The analysis of previous literature shows that it is crucial to consider the aspect of habituation to coffee among sportspeople, which can alter the impact. Consequently, the proposed research topic is the investigation of caffeine’s effect on physical and cognitive performance among athletes who are not used to the continuous intake of this element. The study will utilise a purposive sampling method and will use a mixed research technique.


Coffee is one of the most popular drinks, and many individuals do not imagine mornings without this drink to feel fresher and more active. Coffee contains high levels of caffeine and is perceived to be a stimulus to boost energy and fight tiredness or sleepiness. Professional sportspeople also fall under the category of those who consume this product. The point is that caffeine is “an ergogenic aid” that was proved “to enhance performance across a wide range of capacities through a variety of mechanisms” (Pickering and Kiely, 2018). Consequently, this substance becomes popular among communities and among athletes as an instrument to increase energy levels. Thus, the issue of sportspersons taking caffeine is an issue that imposes a question of its influence on their physical and cognitive performance. This topic is crucial to investigate because it can offer new insights on the problem, identify the trends and determine whether taking caffeine is a useful measure for sports professionals.

Literature Review

It is essential to understand how caffeine (CAF) works and what are the allowed norms for the athletes to avoid potential side effects or negative impact. The discussed substance is present not only in such drinks as coffee and tea, but also in particular foods, like cacao beans, and it produces the results through blocking adenosine receptors (McLellan et al., 2016). Hence, different ways of caffeine consumption are available to athletes, which expands its attractiveness. This product influences the central nervous system and is similar to neuromodulator, which causes a reaction in physical and cognitive functioning (McLellan et al., 2016). Still, the significance of appropriate doses should not be underestimated. An acceptable intake of caffeine should not exceed 200 mg to improve such metrics as “time-to-exhaustion, time-trial, muscle strength and endurance, and high-intensity sprints” ((McLellan et al., 2016:296). Therefore, the athletes should carefully consider the doses and remember that exceeding the advised amount might, on the contrary, deter their results.

The paper has already mentioned the issue of potential CAF’s effect on physical and cognitive performance. Shabir et al. conducted a review of seventeen studies related to the investigation of caffeine oral consumption connection to the changes in particular factors among athletes, such as endurance capacity, memory, motivation, and others. The scholars revealed that thirteen of the studies concluded the presence of CAF’s influence on sportspeople in different directions and tied it to a placebo effect (Shabir et al., 2018). It is curious to notice that the placebo effect can play a significant role in further performance based on their expectations. For instance, those who have positive outlooks proved to feel more alert, while those with negative beliefs about caffeine were more tensed (Shabir et al., 2018). Consequently, differences in perceptions might cause various outcomes in the performance, which implies that those who hold a neutral position can experience more significant effects and responsiveness to CAF.

At this point, it is essential to look at caffeine’s impact on cognitive performance that also plays a vital role in athletics results. One study suggested that CAF ingestion outcome produces a faster response in comparison to placebo condition “at sixty minutes post-ingestion compared to post-exercise” (Duncan et al., 2018:107). Thus, it is possible to say that this substance consumption enhances cognitive performance at higher rates than the perceived expectancies. Moreover, another finding showed that caffeine influenced time interaction in the congruent condition and response accuracy compared to placebo condition, implying that it is “an attentional time enhancer” (Duncan et al., 2018:109). It implicates that CAF positively affects cognitive performance among athletes and can be used as a booster under particular conditions.

The next aspect is the influence of caffeine on physical abilities through investigating the results of cycling time trial and VO2 max in the article of Pickering and Kiely. The outcomes portrayed that among those athletes used to habitual CAF intake, the substance ingestion did not produce any results or ergogenic potential (Pickering and Kiely, 2018). One can say that sportspersons who continuously consume moderate to high doses of caffeine are not subjected to the impact on physical performance. Besides, higher CAF doses might even increase the risk of side effects, “such as tremor, insomnia and increased heart rate” (Pickering and Kiely, 2018:837). Therefore, it is possible to state that habituation lowers the possibility of positive effects. Still, the athletes who were asked to abstain from caffeine for a couple of days produced boosted time-trial performance after having a low CAF dose (Pickering and Kiely, 2018). It shows that professionals who do not consume caffeine daily might experience a positive influence of the substance on physical abilities.

Research Question

Based on the literature review, one can say that caffeine implies specific effects on different aspects of mental and bodily capabilities, which can be reached by placebo condition in particular cases. Thus, the research question is what is the impact of CAF in comparison to given placebo on cognitive and physical performance among athletes who do not have habituation to consume the substance.


The research will utilise the combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to answer the question and generate a coherent analysis. The participants of the study will be limited to male football players who represent a substantial cohort among professional athletes. The study will use non-probability sampling because it is cost and time effective, and will recruit the participants based on the purposive method. In such a way, the researcher will search for male footballers willing to participate in the study, and the ones who do not have a habit of CAF intake will be selected. Consequently, the investigation will be narrowed down to a specific group of participants, not based on a random sample, to withdraw the conclusions relative to the topic.

During the quantitative part of the research, it will be required to measure the proportion of participants who experienced the improvement of physical ability and, separately, the enhancement of cognitive performance. Thus, independent variables will be CAF doses and the amount of placebo given to the chosen partakers. The dependent variable in the study will be the results that the football players portray because they might vary individually. The qualitative part will rely on the previous studies in this area and on Lewin’s Field theory. The model assumes that “behaviour is a consequence of the totality of the situation” and that “the dynamic field has more influence on behaviour than past experience or future desires” (Brand and Ekkekakis, 2017:49). Consequently, the researcher will analyse the findings and compare or link them to other secondary sources.

The use of a mixed-method can help to generate more significant and precise results of the study and avoid uncertainty and ambiguity. Statistical software SPSS will be adopted to evaluate the quantitative part of the research, while a thorough investigation of secondary literature and proposed theory will constitute the qualitative part. Hence, the researcher will aim to reach accurate results through precise assessment and utilisation of different resources.



Reference List

Brand, R. and Ekkekakis, P. (2018) ‘Affective–reflective theory of physical inactivity and exercise.’ German Journal of Exercise and Sport Research48(1) pp.48-58.

Duncan, M.J., Dobell, A.P., Caygill, C.L., Eyre, E. and Tallis, J. (2018) ‘The effect of acute caffeine ingestion on upper body anaerobic exercise and cognitive performance.’ European Journal of Sport Science19(1) pp.103-111.

McLellan, T.M., Caldwell, J.A. and Lieberman, H.R. (2016) ‘A review of caffeine’s effects on cognitive, physical and occupational performance.’ Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews71 pp.294-312.

Pickering, C. and Kiely, J. (2018) ‘What should we do about habitual caffeine use in athletes?’ Sports Medicine49(6) pp.833-842.

Shabir, A., Hooton, A., Tallis, J. and F Higgins, M. (2018) ‘The influence of caffeine expectancies on sport, exercise, and cognitive performance.’ Nutrients10(10) pp.1528-1529.






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