The study’s objective was to determine whether orally ingested caffeine could help overcome excitation-contraction-coupling failure, which has been suggested to explain part of the strength loss associated with eccentric-contraction-induced muscle injury. A sample of 13 college students (4 men and 9 women) was used in a double-blind, repeated-measures experimental design. Each participant performed 2 experimental trials, 1 with each leg, with each trial lasting 4 consecutive days. On a given day, each participant was randomly assigned to ingest a capsule containing 6 mg/kg of either caffeine or flour (placebo). On the day of and the first 2 days after a bout of 50 injurious eccentric contractions done by the knee extensors, the interpolated-twitch technique was used to assess electrically evoked strength, maximal voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC) strength, and percent muscle activation during MVIC both before and after capsule ingestion. These variables were also measured before and after capsule ingestion the day before the eccentric-contraction bout—when the muscle was uninjured. In injured muscle, caffeine had no effect on any variable. In uninjured muscle, caffeine also had no effect on electrically evoked strength but increased MVIC strength by 10.4% compared with placebo (p = .00002), and this was attributed to an increase in muscle activation (6.2%; p = .01). In conclusion, the data provide no evidence that caffeine ingestion can help overcome excitation-contraction-coupling failure, if it exists, in injured human muscle. The data do indicate that caffeine ingestion can increase MVIC strength and activation in uninjured muscle but not in injured muscle.
The authors are with the Div. of Physical Therapy, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA 30302.