Caffeine's Psychological Effects on Athletes

September 6/Press Association Mediapoint -- Tricking people into thinking they have been given caffeine before a workout actually makes them train harder, research suggests.

Caffeine is a well-known stimulant, but very little research has been carried out into the physical and psychological effects of people thinking they have taken it. Now, an expert from Coventry University has shown the powerful ways the mind can force the body to work harder.

In the test, 12 cyclists were asked to perform a series of trials to test the effects, with each trial containing four teams:
* Team one - told they would be receiving caffeine and given caffeine
* Team two - told they would receive a placebo and given placebo
* Team three - told they would receive caffeine and given placebo
* Team four - told they would receive placebo and given caffeine

Each of the cyclists drank 250ml of fluid containing artificial sweetener and then either caffeine or a placebo before the 30-second trial. Every person took part in all the trials, resulting in 48 sets of data.

Tests were carried out to measure power, heart rate and the build-up of lactic acid in the body, which is created during intense exercise.

The results showed that team one's sprint power was the highest out of all the groups.

Team two's sprint power was by far the lowest, but the scores for teams three and four were exactly the same and were in the mid-range.

The research was presented by Michael Duncan, a senior lecturer in applied sports science, at the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences Conference in London.

He said, "We found there's a psychological mechanism whereby the person will react depending on what they think they've ingested, rather than what they've actually had. The highest power output was when we told them they were having caffeine and we gave it to them.

"Then, at the other end of the scale, their performance dropped quite low when we gave them nothing and told them they had ingested nothing.

"It is almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy -- they believe they don't have an advantage and so they perform worse.

"When we told them they were having caffeine but they had something like orange squash, they performed better. Their perception of how hard things were was also lower when we told them they had had caffeine -- they thought the exercise was less intense than it actually was.

"Essentially, the trick in terms of athletes or even normal gym-goers is if you can convince them that some kind of substance is going to have a positive effect, it will have that effect.''

From the September 20, 2010, Prepared Foods E-dition