With the imminent opening of the Beijing Olympics, a study of UK athletes revealed that 33% of track and field athletes and 60% of competitive cyclists take caffeine to enhance performance. Four years ago the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) removed caffeine from the banned substance list, but this study shows that many athletes still believe that it enhances performance.
So why is its use so prevalent among athletes, if WADA does not consider the performance enhancing effects of caffeine to be enough to warrant its inclusion on the banned list?
In an editorial in BMJ Clinical Evidence, Mark Stuart who was a pharmacist for the Sydney Olympics and Manchester and Melbourne Commonwealth Games, discusses one study that indicates continued widespread use of caffeine, and two studies that suggest that the placebo effect may be a reason for this behaviour.
“The placebo effect may reconcile the disparity between the current culture of caffeine use in sport and the current WADA position”, says Stuart. Until then, he concludes “given the evidence-driven backing of WADA from the scientific community, the likelihood of widespread caffeine use at this month’s Olympics will, hopefully, not threaten the integrity of fair play in sport”.