Caffeine is both good and bad for your soccer skills, study finds
Researchers have found that ingesting low-dose caffeine had both positive and negative effects on the performance of young, experienced soccer players. While there are a lot of factors at play, the findings might be useful for coaches and players to consider.
Soccer – football for those in the UK – combines low-intensity activities like walking, jogging and standing with high-intensity sprinting, turning, and tackling. A player’s performance and success on the soccer field depend on both fitness and quick decision-making.
Previous studies have found that caffeine, one of the world’s most popular dietary supplements, can provide physical benefits during intermittent exercise, including soccer, but its effect on sports-based decision-making is less well-studied. Now, researchers at Staffordshire University, UK, and Iran’s Shiraz University have examined the effect of caffeine on soccer players’ passing accuracy, problem-solving and decision-making abilities.
“Studies have shown that caffeine can enhance attention, accuracy, and speed, as well as self-reported measures of energy and mood,” said Pooya Soltani, corresponding author of the study. “However, the effects of caffeine on ‘higher’ cognitive functions such as problem-solving and decision-making are often debated, so we decided to investigate this.”
The researchers recruited 12 male soccer players aged 16 to 17 with at least four years of experience playing soccer in the Iranian Youth Tier 1 League. Participants were moderate habitual caffeine users of less than 100 mg/day. Each participant was given 3 mg/kg body mass of either caffeine or flour powder in gelatin capsules, and their decision-making abilities, short- (33 ft/10 m) and long-pass (98 ft/30 m) accuracy and pass ability were evaluated. While that dose is considered a low dose of caffeine, previous research has found it to be ergogenic, or enhance performance.
Pass ability was assessed using the Loughborough Soccer Passing Test (LSPT), a multifaceted soccer-specific skill test to evaluate passing, dribbling, controlling and decision-making abilities. Decision-making was assessed via a computer task where participants watched 10 video clips of a soccer player controlling a ball and were asked to determine the best option for building a good attack scenario when the video was paused.
After consuming caffeine, the participants were 1.67% more accurate with short passes and 13.48% more accurate with long passes, compared to the placebo. However, their decision-making was 7.14% lower, and LSPT scores were 3.49% lower after they consumed caffeine.
“While the short pass accuracy remained consistent among almost all participants before and after caffeine consumption, the performance varied in the case of long passes,” said Negar Jafari, the study’s lead author. “Moreover, most of the participants scored lower on decision-making and the Loughborough Soccer Passing Test after consuming caffeine. This may suggest that more complex tasks with a higher number of passes might negatively be affected by low doses of caffeine ingested one hour before playing.”
Rather than recommending that soccer players avoid caffeine altogether, the researchers say their findings suggest further research into its effects on decision-making during a match.
“During a football match, players must process various cues such as opponents’ positions, team organization, and time pressure,” Soltani said. “Decision-making in passing is particularly important, where a well-executed pass can create scoring opportunities.”
They say that there are a lot of factors to consider, but the data provided by the study could be useful for training.
“Our findings show that [decision-making] can be affected by caffeine intake and coaches may find these performance metrics useful to explore in training,” said Soltani. “A number of parameters can be involved – the dosage of caffeine relative to body weight, the frequency of caffeine intake and certain positions of the players or their playing styles. For example, a slight decrease in pass accuracy might be crucial for a midfielder but less impactful for a goalkeeper.”
The study was published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research.
Source: Staffordshire University