Although the effects of caffeine supplementation on combat sports performance have been extensively investigated, there is currently no consensus regarding its ergogenic benefits.This systematic review with meta-analysis aimed to summarize the studies investigating the effects of caffeine supplementation on different aspects of performance in combat sports and to quantitatively analyze the results of these studies to better understand the ergogenic effect of caffeine on combat sports outcomes. A systematic search for randomized placebo-controlled studies investigating the effects of caffeine supplementation on combat sports' performance was performed through Scopus, Pubmed, Web of Science and Cochrane Library databases up to 18 April 2022. Random-effects meta-analyses of standardized mean differences (Hedge's g) were performed to analyze the data. Twenty-six studies of good and excellent methodological quality (based on the Pedro scale) fulfilled the inclusion criteria. The meta-analysis results revealed caffeine has a small but evident effect size (ES) on handgrip strength (ES = 0.28; 95% CI: 0.04 to 0.52; p = 0.02), and total number of throws during the special judo fitness test (SJFT) (ES = 0.42; 95% CI: 0.06 to 0.78; p = 0.02). Regarding the physiological responses, caffeine increased blood lactate concentration ([La]) in anaerobic exercise (ES = 1.23; 95% CI: 0.29 to 2.18; p = 0.01) and simulated combat (ES = 0.91; 95% CI: 0.34 to 1.47; p = 0.002). For Heart Rate (HR), caffeine increased HR final (ES = 0.31; 95% CI: 0.11 to 0.52; p = 0.003), and HR 1min (ES = 0.20; 95% CI 0.004 to 0.40; p = 0.045). However, caffeine had no impact on the countermovement jump height, the SJFT index, the judogi strength-endurance test, the number and duration of offensive actions, HR at the end of the fight, and the rating of perceived exertion. Caffeine supplementation may be ergogenic for a range of combat sports aspects involving isometric strength, anaerobic power, reaction time, and anaerobic metabolism. However, supplementation effects might be ineffective under certain circumstances, indicating supplementation needs to take into account the performance metric in question prior to creating a dosing protocol.
Keywords: caffeine; ergogenic aid; martial arts; supplementation.