Improvements in cycling but not handcycling 10 km time trial performance in habitual caffeine users

Caffeine supplementation during whole-/lower-body exercise is well-researched, yet evidence of its effect during upper-body exercise is equivocal. The current study explored the effects of caffeine on cycling/handcycling 10 km time trial (TT) performance in habitual caffeine users. Eleven recreationally trained males (mean (SD) age 24 (4) years, body mass 85.1 (14.6) kg, cycling/handcycling peak oxygen uptake (V peak) 42.9 (7.3)/27.6 (5.1) mL·kg·min−1, 160 (168) mg/day caffeine consumption) completed two maximal incremental tests and two familiarization sessions. During four subsequent visits, participants cycled/handcycled for 30 min at 65% mode-specific V peak (preload) followed by a 10 km TT following the ingestion of 4 mg·kg−1 caffeine (CAF) or placebo (PLA). Caffeine significantly improved cycling (2.0 (2.0)%; 16:35 vs. 16:56 min; p = 0.033) but not handcycling (1.8 (3.0)%; 24:10 vs. 24:36 min; p = 0.153) TT performance compared to PLA. The improvement during cycling can be attributed to the increased power output during the first and last 2 km during CAF. Higher blood lactate concentration (Bla) was reported during CAF compared to PLA (p < 0.007) and was evident 5 min post-TT during cycling (11.2 ± 2.6 and 8.8 ± 3.2 mmol/L; p = 0.001) and handcycling (10.6 ± 2.5 and 9.2 ± 2.9 mmol/L; p = 0.006). Lower overall ratings of perceived exertion (RPE) were seen following CAF during the preload (p < 0.05) but not post-TT. Lower peripheral RPE were reported at 20 min during cycling and at 30 min during handcycling, and lower central RPE was seen at 30 min during cycling (p < 0.05). Caffeine improved cycling but not handcycling TT performance. The lack of improvement during handcycling may be due to the smaller active muscle mass, elevated (Bla) and/or participants’ training status.