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Coffee & Health
Sports performance

Risk or benefit? Side effects of caffeine supplementation in sport: a systematic review

April 6, 2022


The aim of this study was to systematically review evidence on the prevalence and magnitude of side effects associated with caffeine supplementation in athletes.

Systematic searches through the PubMed, VHL, Scopus, and Web of Science databases were conducted according to the PRISMA guidelines. Peer-reviewed articles written in English that reported the prevalence/percentage or magnitude/effect size of side effects after caffeine supplementation in athletes in a sports context were included. Studies were grouped by the dose of caffeine administered as follows: low = ≤ 3.0 mg/kg; moderate = from 3.1 to 6.0 mg/kg; high = ≥ 6.1 mg/kg. The magnitude of the side effects was calculated with effect sizes.

The search retrieved 25 studies that met the inclusion/exclusion criteria with a pooled sample of 421 participants. The supplementation with caffeine produced a higher prevalence or magnitude of all side effects under investigation when compared to placebo/control situations. The prevalence (magnitude) was between 6 and 34% (ES between 0.13 and 1.11) for low doses of caffeine, between 0 and 34% (ES between -0.13 and 1.20) for moderate doses of caffeine, and between 8 and 83% (ES between 0.04 and 1.52) with high doses of caffeine. The presence of tachycardia/heart palpitations and the negative effects on sleep onset had the highest prevalence and magnitude, in athletes using supplementation with caffeine.

In summary, caffeine supplementation in the doses habitually used to enhance physical performance produces several side effects, both after exercise and at least 24 h after the ingestion. However, the prevalence and magnitude of side effects with high doses of caffeine were habitually higher than with low doses of caffeine. From a practical perspective, using ~3.0 mg/kg of caffeine may be the dose of choice to obtain the ergogenic benefits of caffeine with the lowest prevalence and magnitude of side effects.

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