Purpose: The effect of caffeine ingestion on sprint performance is unclear. We have therefore investigated its effect on performance in a test that simulates the repeated sprints of team sports.
Methods: In a randomized double-blind crossover experiment, 16 male team-sport athletes ingested either caffeine (6 mg.kg-1 of body mass) or a placebo 60 min before performing a repeated 20-m sprint test. The test consisted of 10 sprints, each performed within 10 s and followed by rest for the remainder of each 10 s. The caffeine and placebo trials followed a familiarization trial, and the time between consecutive trials was 2-3 d. To allow estimation of variation in treatment effects between individuals, nine subjects performed three more trials without a supplement 7-14 d later. We estimated the smallest worthwhile effect on sprint time in a team sport to be approximately 0.8%.
Results: Mean time to complete 10 sprints increased by 0.1% (95% likely range -1.5 to 1.7%) with caffeine ingestion relative to placebo. Individual variation in this effect was a standard deviation of 0.7% (-2.7 to 2.9%). Time to complete the 10th sprint was 14.4% longer than the first; caffeine increased this time by 0.7% (-1.8 to 3.2%) relative to placebo, and individual variation in this effect was 2.4% (-3.4 to 4.9%).
Conclusion: The observed effect of caffeine ingestion on mean sprint performance and fatigue over 10 sprints was negligible. The true effect on mean performance could be small at most, although the true effects on fatigue and on the performance of individuals could be somewhat larger. Pending confirmatory research, team-sport athletes should not expect caffeine to enhance sprint performance.