Mental Performance and Sport: Caffeine and Co-consumed bioactive ingredients


November 2022


The plant defence compound caffeine is widely consumed as a performance enhancer in a sporting context, with potential benefits expected in both physiological and psychological terms. However, although caffeine modestly but consistently improves alertness and fatigue, its effects on mental performance are largely restricted to improved attention or concentration. It has no consistent effect within other cognitive domains that are important to sporting performance, including working memory, executive function and long-term memory. Although caffeine’s central nervous system effects are often attributed to blockade of the receptors for the inhibitory neuromodulator adenosine, it also inhibits a number of enzymes involved both in neurotransmission and in cellular homeostasis and signal propagation. Furthermore, it modulates the pharmacokinetics of other endogenous and exogenous bioactive molecules, in part via interactions with shared cytochrome P450 enzymes. Caffeine therefore enjoys interactive relationships with a wide range of bioactive medicinal and dietary compounds, potentially broadening, increasing, decreasing, or modulating the time course of their functional effects, or vice versa. This narrative review explores the mechanisms of action and efficacy of caffeine and the potential for combinations of caffeine and other dietary compounds to exert psychological effects in excess of those expected following caffeine alone. The review focusses on, and indeed restricted its untargeted search to, the most commonly consumed sources of caffeine: products derived from caffeine-synthesising plants that give us tea (Camellia sinensis), coffee (Coffea genus), cocoa (Theabroma cacao) and guaraná (Paullinia cupana), plus multi-component energy drinks and shots. This literature suggests relevant benefits to mental performance that exceed those associated with caffeine for multi-ingredient energy drinks/shots and several low-caffeine extracts, including high-flavanol cocoa and guarana. However, there is a general lack of research conducted in such a way as to disentangle the relative contributions of the component parts of these products.

Sports Med (2022) 52(Suppl 1):69-90