Caffeine (CAF) has been reported to improve various facets associated with successful soccer play, including gross motor skill performance, endurance capacity and cognition. These benefits are primarily attributed to pharmacological mechanisms. However, evidence assessing CAF’s overall effects on soccer performance are sparse with no studies accounting for CAF’s potential psychological impact. Therefore, the aim of this study was to assess CAF’s psychological vs. pharmacological influence on various facets of simulated soccer performance. Utilising a double-dissociation design, eight male recreational soccer players (age: 22 ± 5 years, body mass: 78 ± 16 kg, height: 178 ± 6 cm) consumed CAF (3 mg/kg/body mass) or placebo (PLA) capsules, 60 min prior to performing the Loughborough Intermittent Shuttle Test (LIST) interspersed with a collection of ratings of perceived exertion (RPE), blood glucose and lactate, heart rate and performing the Loughborough Soccer Passing Test (LSPT). Whole-body dynamic reaction time (DRT) was assessed pre- and post- LIST, and endurance capacity (TLIM
) post, time-matched LIST. Statistical analysis was performed using IBM SPSS (v24) whilst subjective perceptions were explored using template analysis. Mean TLIM
was greatest (p
< 0.001) for synergism (given CAF/told CAF) (672 ± 132 s) vs. placebo (given PLA/told PLA) (533 ± 79 s). However, when isolated, TLIM
was greater (p
= 0.012) for CAF psychology (given PLA/told CAF) (623 ± 117 s) vs. pharmacology (given CAF/told PLA) (578 ± 99 s), potentially, via reduced RPE. Although DRT performance was greater (p
= 0.024) post-ingestion (+5 hits) and post-exercise (+7 hits) for pharmacology vs. placebo, psychology and synergism appeared to improve LSPT performance vs. pharmacology. Interestingly, positive perceptions during psychology inhibited LSPT and DRT performance via potential CAF over-reliance, with the opposite occurring following negative perceptions. The benefits associated with CAF expectancies may better suit tasks that entail lesser cognitive-/skill-specific attributes but greater gross motor function and this is likely due to reduced RPE. In isolation, these effects appear greater vs. CAF pharmacology. However, an additive benefit may be observed after combining expectancy with CAF pharmacology (i.e., synergism).
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