June 13, 2019

Kinesiology study finds caffeine boosts hockey players' physicality

First-of-its-kind study demonstrates new wave of biomechanics and sports-related research

Like many people, hockey players swear by the power of caffeine to give them that extra performance edge.

Now a new University of Calgary study, "Effects of Caffeine on Exertion, Skill Performance, and Physicality in Ice Hockey," published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, has found there may be evidence for that belief. The findings determined that caffeine may be beneficial in increasing physical contact or high-intensity skating in ice hockey players, without causing any detriment in performance.

For male ice hockey players in particular, “if you want to be physical, which is a big part of the game, it seems that caffeine is a good thing,” says the study’s senior author, Dr. Lauren Benson, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar in the Faculty of Kinesiology, whose research focuses on using wearable technology in sports to monitor athletic performance.

The aim of this real-world, field-based study was to investigate the effects of low-dose caffeine supplementation on perceived exertion, sport-specific skills performance, and physicality in male collegiate ice hockey players. It’s the first study to investigate caffeine use in ice hockey players, and the first study to use wearable technology to measure physicality in ice hockey.

“This is where sports research is going now, to get an idea of how people are actually moving in practice and games,” Benson explains. “It represents a new wave of biomechanics and sports-related research that’s making it easier to measure real-world sports movements.”

Members of the Mount Royal University Cougars hockey team served as study subjects, with athletes wearing an accelerometer — the same type of technology used in the Fitbit, the device that measures people’s steps — to record motion.

The athletes took either caffeine or placebo pills 30 minutes before an hour-long practice during each of the study’s four data collection days in the fall and winter of 2017. The researchers assessed the athletes’ rating of perceived exertion — how tired they felt — and how they performed on offensive drills and during scrimmage.

According to the study, which measured the effects of three milligrams of caffeine per one kilogram of body weight (just over two cups of coffee for a 200-pound — 90.7-kilogram — player), caffeine could potentially enhance physicality. However, the researchers found this low dose of caffeine didn’t enhance skills or reduce fatigue.

“It’s important that an athlete knows what aspect of their performance they are wanting to enhance,” says lead author Robyn Madden, a PhD student in the Faculty of Kinesiology. “We found a low dose of caffeine enhances physicality, so it may be an appropriate dose for an athlete seeking that.” The study findings could be useful for athletes in other contact team sports, such as lacrosse and rugby, she adds.

The study was co-authored by Dr. Lauren Benson, PhD; Robyn Madden, PhD student; Dr. Jane Shearer, PhD; Ash Kolstad; Kelly Anne Erdman (Sport Medicine Centre); and Dr. Reed Ferber, PhD, all of whom are from the Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary. Ferber is also with the Faculty of Nursing and Running Injury Clinic at UCalgary. Dr. Lawrence Spriet, PhD; Jessica Bigg; and Alexander Gamble are with the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelph.