Here is a recent and interesting study showing the power of the mind and how large an impact it can have on our exercise performance.
Well-trained athletes ran seven 1000-time trials over the course of four weeks. The first few to establish a baseline for performance without caffeine, and the last 4 to test the hypothesis that just thinking you have ingested caffeine will make you perform better.
In a randomized fashion, the conditions were as follows: 1) the researchers told the athletes that they received caffeine and then they were actually given caffeine 2) they were told they received caffeine but actually received placebo 3) they were told they received placebo but actually received caffeine, and 4) they were told they received placebo and actually received placebo.
The athletes were told before each trial that either “Today you will be performing the trial with caffeine” or “Today you will be performing the trial with no caffeine”. They didn’t know anything about being lied to half the time.
The athletes ran faster than baseline when they were told they were given caffeine and the pill actually contained caffeine. No surprises there.
When they received placebo and were told it was caffeine, they also ran faster. No real surprises there either. We know the placebo effect can be powerful.
Here comes the fascinating parts.
When the athletes did receive caffeine but were told it was placebo, they didn’t get any performance boost from the caffeine. Their minds “knew” it wasn’t caffeine, so their bodies didn’t perform as if it had been given caffeine. Which in reality it had.
The effect sizes for the performance-enhancing effects of caffeine and placebo when the athletes thought they were given the real thing were almost identical. That means just thinking you have ingested caffeine might enable you to perform just as well as if you really had.
In conclusion, just believing to have ingested caffeine can improve performance to the same degree as actually ingesting caffeine. Funny what the brain can make us do.
This could also mean that you might enhance the effect of real caffeine with a positive belief in its effectiveness.