The painkiller paracetamol that you can buy without a prescription at your pharmacy, supermarket or drug store, improves performance. Researchers of the University of Exeter in England gave trained cyclists 1.5 grams of paracetamol just before a 16.1 kilometer time trial. The difference was amazing. During the race with paracetamol they performed 30 seconds better.

The painkiller paracetamol is the one most frequently used in the world.  This drug has been used since 1893 when it was introduced by Joseph von Mering.

British researchers wondered how athletes are able to endure pain successfully. Performing without suffering pain is not possible; the ability to withstand pain is a feature that makes the difference between a successful and a moderate athlete. Paracetamol  blocks the pain signal so that it cannot reach the brains, resulting in a shift of the pain barrier and pain can be tolerated better.

If this view is correct, well-trained cyclists must perform better.  In time trials they are faster with paracetamol than without it.

To investigate these researchers selected 11 male cyclists who took part in competitions.  They rode two time trials of 16.1 km.: one time with a placebo and one time 1.5 gr paracetamol in a tablet. The riders took in the paracetamol or the placebo 45 minutes before the start of the time trial.

With a placebo, the riders set a time of 26 minutes and 45 seconds with the distance of 16.1 km, with the paracetamol the time was   26 minutes and  15 seconds. A big difference, for a time trial, of 30 seconds.

During the time trial they also measured the force exerted on the pedals. With how much power the riders pedaled. After taking paracetamol the power to the pedals increased consistently.

The researchers asked the riders how much pain they had and how tired they felt during the time trial. The answer was that there was no difference in pain. Apparently, the riders with a painkiller continuously deliver more power and still seek their pain threshold again. The pain threshold that is slightly shifted favorably, by the paracetamol medication.


J Appl Physiol. 2010 Jan; 108 (1): 98-104.