What can isolated skeletal muscle experiments tell us about the effects of caffeine on exercise performance?

Br J Pharmacol. 2015 Aug;172(15):3703-13. doi: 10.1111/bph.13187. Epub 2015 Jun 29.


Caffeine is an increasingly popular nutritional supplement due to the legal, significant improvements in sporting performance that it has been documented to elicit, with minimal side effects. Therefore, the effects of caffeine on human performance continue to be a popular area of research as we strive to improve our understanding of this drug and make more precise recommendations for its use in sport. Although variations in exercise intensity seems to affect its ergogenic benefits, it is largely thought that caffeine can induce significant improvements in endurance, power and strength-based activities. There are a number of limitations to testing caffeine-induced effects on human performance that can be better controlled when investigating its effects on isolated muscles under in vitro conditions. The hydrophobic nature of caffeine results in a post-digestion distribution to all tissues of the body making it difficult to accurately quantify its key mechanism of action. This review considers the contribution of evidence from isolated muscle studies to our understating of the direct effects of caffeine on muscle during human performance. The body of in vitro evidence presented suggests that caffeine can directly potentiate skeletal muscle force, work and power, which may be important contributors to the performance-enhancing effects seen in humans.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caffeine / pharmacology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Performance-Enhancing Substances / pharmacology


  • Performance-Enhancing Substances
  • Caffeine