Researchers in Spain and the US looked at nine studies published since 2010 assessing how caffeine may affect the performance of athletes in combat sports.
Though three of these studies detected no significant changes in physical performance, stamina, or recovery (known as ergogenic effect), the remaining six studies did show a positive correlation.
“Caffeine doses of 3–6 mg/kg have been associated with increased glycolytic activity [or breakdown of glucose] during real or simulated combats,” the authors reported in their study, published last month in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
“This effect is accompanied by increased blood lactate concentrations and improved performance, as measured through the engagement time or number of throws performed in a contest.”
Caffeine is one of the dietary supplements with the strongest body of science linking it to performance improvement, they argued, along with creatine, sodium bicarbonate, β-alanine, and nitrate.
However, “In the context of other supplements [such as] creatine, they can't use creatine because it may promote weight gain and therefore alter the weight class they compete in,” Dr Jose Antonio, a sports nutrition researcher and co-author of the study, told NutraIngredients-USA.
Fight sport athletes are unique in that they have the same energy requirements as other athletes, yet they can only consume a restricted amount of calories to stay in their weight class. Hence, Dr Antonio explained, caffeine is worth exploring deeper because it does not promote weight gain.
Study details and results
Researchers searched the databases Medline, Scopus, and SPORTDiscus for articles published between 2010 and 2018.
They included all studies in English, Spanish, or Portuguese that reported on randomized trials with a control group in which caffeine supplements and placebo were administered to a population of combat sport athletes. Out of 1053 studies identified, they narrowed it down to nine after assessing the study’s quality and relevance.
There were 109 participants in total when all nine studies were combined. This included 42 Brazilian jiu jitsu athletes, 33 taekwondo athletes, and 34 judo athletes.
Caffeine doses tested in the trials included 3 mg/kg, 4 mg/kg, 5 mg/kg, and k mg/kg at various times before exercise testing.
Positive outcomes reported by these studies included increased hand grip strength, maximum bench press reps, and kick reaction speed for participants who ingested caffeine compared to the placebo.
The results also prompted the authors to recommend the intake of 3 mg/kg, “Because of the plateau effect of doses of 3–9 mg/kg.”
“Further, since prolonged caffeine intake can provoke sleep alterations, which may in turn modify sports performance and also lead to tolerance reducing its ergogenic potential, we recommend its use only in competitions and in athletes who have shown a good response to caffeine during training,” they added.
Interested to learn more about nutrition for fight sports?
Tony Ricci, a certified sports nutritionist, fight sports performance coach, and assistant professor of exercise biochemistry and nutrition at Long Island University Brooklyn, will be speaking at NutraIngredients-USA’s inaugural Sports Nutrition Summit in San Diego on Jan. 23-24., hosted together with the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
He will focus on the unique qualities of nutrition and supplementation for fight sports.
“We have to be very strategic in how many calories we can take in if we’re going to make the desired weight class. And while we’re taking those calories in, our energy demands are no less than that of an American football player, basketball player, baseball, hockey, soccer,” he said.
In addition, “We’ll talk about how we utilize food to optimize their performance even when restricted,” he said.
“We’ll also talk about why supplements can be so important to fight sport athletes, which supplements can be helpful for fight sport athletes, and the caveats, if you will, of supplements for fight sports athletes.”
Source: Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
Published online, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0267-2
"Acute caffeine supplementation in combat sports: a systematic review"
Authors: Luis M. López-González
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