Soccer is a complex team sport and success in this discipline depends on different factors such as physical fitness, player technique and team tactics, among others. In the last few years, several studies have described the impact of caffeine intake on soccer physical performance, but the results of these investigations have not been properly reviewed and summarized. The main objective of this review was to evaluate critically the effectiveness of a moderate dose of caffeine on soccer physical performance. A structured search was carried out following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines in the Medline/PubMed and Web of Science databases from January 2007 to November 2018. The search included studies with a cross-over and randomized experimental design in which the intake of caffeine (either from caffeinated drinks or pills) was compared to an identical placebo situation. There were no filters applied to the soccer players' level, gender or age. This review included 17 articles that investigated the effects of caffeine on soccer-specific abilities (n = 12) or on muscle damage (n = 5). The review concluded that 5 investigations (100% of the number of investigations on this topic) had found ergogenic effects of caffeine on jump performance, 4 (100%) on repeated sprint ability and 2 (100%) on running distance during a simulated soccer game. However, only 1 investigation (25%) found as an effect of caffeine to increase serum markers of muscle damage, while no investigation reported an effect of caffeine to reduce perceived fatigue after soccer practice. In conclusion, a single and moderate dose of caffeine, ingested 5⁻60 min before a soccer practice, might produce valuable improvements in certain abilities related to enhanced soccer physical performance. However, caffeine does not seem to cause increased markers of muscle damage or changes in perceived exertion during soccer practice.
Keywords: DOMS; RPE; ergogenic aids; football; sport performance; supplementation.