Should Caffeine Be Restricted Before A Competition To Help You Resensitize To It?

This is a fascinating topic for me because my opinion has recently shifted on the subject. So, in this post, I’d like to outline both my initial thinking and some counter-arguments.

Caffeine is a stimulant, as you probably already know. And the consequences are immediately apparent. And there’s a lot of evidence to back up its positive effects on strength, endurance, and sports performance. It can also help you workout better when you’re fatigued or haven’t had enough sleep. We have evidence indicating it benefits grip strength, jump height, and power production in elite level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) athletes, or we have data unique to the population in question.

Our ability to raise our caffeine tolerance is one potential mitigating factor. In other words, the more caffeine we ingest on a regular basis, the less sensitive we get to its physiological effects. Caffeine withdrawal was originally intended to “re-sensitize” the athlete to the effects of caffeine in the week or two coming up to competition. They can shake off the caffeine tolerance they’ve built up by not having any for a while, and thus will be more easily influenced by caffeine when they do take it before the competition (a fight in this particular scenario).

This is comparable to what endurance athletes do when they stop consuming caffeine a week or two before an event to allow their bodies to re-sensitize.

IS RE-SENSITIZATION EFFECTIVE?

However, while it is apparent that people develop a tolerance to caffeine and that you are more excited by it after not taking it for a while, new research suggests that it may not matter for sports performance. The performance benefits of acute caffeine supplementation during a 30-minute cycling time trial were not influenced by the amount of caffeine that the cyclists took on a regular basis, according to a 2017 study from Brazil.

In this study, 40 endurance-trained cyclists were divided into three groups depending on their daily caffeine consumption:

* Low consumers (58 29 mg/d),

* Moderate consumers (143 25 mg/d), and

* High consumers (351 139 mg/d).

Following consumption of the following, these cyclists performed three time trials in the quickest time possible:

1. Caffeine (6 mg/kg) is the first ingredient.
2. The placebo effect
3. There is no supplement (Control)

They discovered that caffeine consumption increased time trial performance significantly when compared to placebo and control settings. The cyclists’ habitual caffeine consumption, on the other hand, had no effect on performance, implying that acute caffeine ingestion pre-performance can improve performance regardless of whether your habitual caffeine intake is high or low. So, at least when it comes to endurance time trial performance, there may not be as much of a need to cut back on coffee in the days leading up to a race as we previously thought.

But I wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s a clear right answer in either direction…

THE ABSENCE OF AGREEMENT

We do, after all, have contradictory evidence. Caffeine tolerance, for example, may reduce the performance benefits of persons who take very little caffeine in the first place if they begin to use even little amounts of caffeine on a regular basis.
When looking at the effect of 28 days of low dose caffeine ingestion on participants whose habitual intake was normally low (75 mg/d), a study out of Loughborough University in the UK came to this conclusion. This is how they set everything up:

1. At the outset of the investigation, these subjects were required to complete two trials: one after eating an acute 3 mg/kg dosage of caffeine and the other after consuming a placebo.

2. The trial consisted of a 60-minute cycle at 60% VO2peak followed by a 30-minute performance challenge.

3. In these early trials, all subjects performed more work when they were given caffeine rather than a placebo, as you might expect.

4. After that, they were given either 1.5–3.0 mg/kg/d of caffeine or a placebo for 28 days.

5. On day 29, another VO2 peak test was performed, this time with an acute 3 mg/kg dose of caffeine added before the test.

6. After four weeks of caffeine supplementation, the performance boost was no longer obvious, but the benefit was preserved in the group that received a placebo for the whole 28-day period.

So, if someone with a low habitual consumption wants to use caffeine to increase performance before a competition, they might be better off avoiding it for the week(s) coming up to it. But how about in other sports or with other performance indicators? Would the findings of this research be applicable to a combat sports athlete? Or are you a powerlifter? You’re probably asking a lot of questions, and you’re correct. I guess it’s still up for dispute right now. We could certainly go over the studies again and again, getting into the weeds of each one. That’s definitely best left for another time, and perhaps for someone who knows a lot more about coffee and sports performance research.

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive assessment of the literature on the subject. So, for the time being, I’d like to put my studies aside. Rather, I’d like to focus on some intriguing questions for practitioners and practical implementation considerations that directly answer the original email’s question.

CAFFEINE USE OR RESTRICTION PRE-COMPETITION: PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS:

Here are some things to think about if you’re making a decision for yourself or the athletes you deal with, especially if they’re losing weight for competition:

1. Placebo Benefits: Caffeine withdrawal can cause certain sportsmen to experience an increased “buzz” or stimulation before a fight, which can provide a benefit via the placebo effect. This has the potential to be quite beneficial. In fact, simply assuming that coffee would improve your performance may increase the benefits you get from it. Even if a period of caffeine restriction to re-sensitize the athlete to its effects isn’t necessary for athletic performance (which is still debatable), there may be a benefit to having that restriction if it causes them to feel more stimulated upon re-introduction, leading them to believe that it will actually improve their physical performance.

2. Diuretic Action: For athletes cutting weight for a weight-class based event, there is a strong case to be made that consuming caffeine in the last days of a weight cut can be beneficial. As a result, increasing water losses might be beneficial. However, this would only be true if caffeine pills were taken while water was limited, since coffee would result in net hydration because the amount of water in a standard coffee would outweigh the water losses caused by the caffeine. Furthermore, quantifying a diuretic impact is difficult, so I have no idea how big of a real-world effect it would have. As a result, I wouldn’t place too much reliance in this strategy throughout a weight loss programme.

3. Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal: Another factor to consider is how stressful caffeine withdrawal will be for the athlete. Some of my fighters continue to drink coffee during the weight cut (since they enjoy it and it helps with hunger), and when they are upset about not being able to do so, they continue to do so. Caffeine withdrawal affects people differently, but anxiety, irritability, and headaches are common symptoms for habitual high-dose users. This is not what you want an athlete to go through in the weeks leading up to a competition, especially if they are simultaneously attempting to lose weight!

 

CONCLUSIONS

Finally, as we have seen time and time again in the field of nutrition, there is no single genuine definite solution. There is rarely a single correct response; rather, trade-offs must be made. So, using this knowledge, as well as your own experiences and expertise, balance the trade-offs and make the option that you believe is most likely correct in each circumstance.

As of right now, reducing caffeine intake in the final week or so before a fight may be a worthwhile strategy if it’s easy for the athlete to do and doesn’t cause any negative symptoms, as at best it will confer a physiological advantage leading to better performance, and at worst it will have no effect or even a slight benefit via the placebo effect. Because there is no need for pre-workout stimulants or caffeine supplementation in this final week’s training, the only difficult thing to change is coffee consumption. A lot of the sportsmen will continue to drink one cup of coffee each morning but will stop there. Some sportsmen want to limit themselves fully.

Things like that can often provide a psychological advantage. We already know that losing weight makes players feel more like “genuine athletes” and provides them a sense of self-identity. Similarly, I’ve observed athletes who make the biggest sacrifices in terms of eating choices feel more prepared to perform. It reinforces their notion that they are willing to go above and beyond what others are willing to do.

I wouldn’t be shocked if more clear evidence emerged that reducing caffeine and re-sensitizing an athlete to caffeine had no effect on performance when caffeine is reintroduced. But, for the time being, I believe it’s reasonable for practitioners to hedge their bets and at least trial new athletes with caffeine restriction to see how they feel, given the uncertainty and clear possibility for a placebo effect. However, in my opinion, if caffeine restriction produces any problems for the athlete (stress, anxiety, headaches, irritability, etc. ), it isn’t worth it because the data isn’t solid.

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