Caffeine consumption meets athletics

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Drinking a Red Bull, a cup of coffee, or a Diet Coke isn’t required when a person needs a hit of caffeine these days.

In fact, many people have no idea that they might be consuming the equivalent of two cups of coffee on a daily basis.

Caffeine is one of the most widely used stimulants in the world, so while many think they aren’t consuming it, they may be wrong. Products like ice cream, pain relievers, sodas and even breath fresheners have caffeine in them. How much? Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t require manufacturers to list caffeine content on nutrition labels, consumers may never know.

An article written in The American College of Sports Medicine says the average individual, whether a coffee drinker or not, consumes 200 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of two cups of coffee or four sodas, per day. In addition, approximately 10 percent of the population ingests 1,000 milligrams per day — five times that of the average American.

While these numbers seem shocking, a large amount of caffeine consumers include athletes and individuals who workout daily.

“You can have a good workout without any caffeine or a caffeinated pre-workout, but with it you can work harder, go longer, have better focus and get much better results working out.” said Jason Evans, a senior in international business from Laie, Hawaii, and Gold’s Gym supplement seller. “Some pre-workouts are better than others when it comes to crashing, but for the most part, anything with a larger amount of caffeine tends to make you crash. It’s not hard to see that it’s bad for you. However, I still take it to get the most out of my workouts.”

Jason went on to say the caffeine in a serving of pre-workout, a generic name for the different brands of energizing powder mix, can range from 100-419 milligrams. This amount is the same as seven cans of Mountain Dew, in just one or two scoops.

Caffeine is a common substance in the diets of most athletes and recreational athletes since it appears in many products individuals consume to support their lifestyle. Products including energy drinks, sport gels, pre- and post-workout supplements, some whey protein powders and diet aids are consumed daily, and sometimes multiple times per day.

Lance Madigan, Utah County health public information officer, said, “Most assume that the side-effects of caffeine are solely the ‘withdrawal,’ but the real concern is from over-caffeinating. These harmful side effects include potential insomnia, nervousness, upset stomach, irregular or racing heartbeat and muscle tremors.”

In fact, over-caffeinating is concerning enough that the NCAA has put regulations on athletes’ consumption of the stimulant. College athletes can lose eligibility if caffeine concentrations in their urine exceed 15 micrograms/milliliter, a level set to allow ordinary consumption of caffeine-containing beverages but doesn’t allow excess.

“Taking caffeine before practices or during games at BYU was really popular about two years ago, but the NCAA came out with new regulations, so now athletes can actually fail a random drug test due to caffeine and lose eligibility for an entire year,” said Rachel Higginson, a BYU sports nutritionist from Rapid City, S.D. “Since this came out, collegiate athletes have started taking the stimulant more seriously.”

The caffeine content of some supplements may be unclear to athletes as many are labeled as containing guarana rather than caffeine; however, the active ingredient in guarana is caffeine in varying amounts.

Even without the NCAA’s stance, some BYU athletes have grown up knowing that relying on their own work is more dependable than any stimulant.

Jennica Redd, a BYU sophomore cross-country runner from Orem, said, “The only time I use caffeine is if I’m doubling at a meet. Between events I take a gel so that some of my energy can be restored after a long race. Other than that, I think a lot of why caffeine works for some athletes is because you tell yourself you now have more energy, but it’s really just your own hard work.”

It has been suggested that athletes think caffeine helps make their hearts work harder and more efficiently by opening the veins in the heart and pushing the blood to the areas being worked out. However, a 2006 study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology concludes the opposite. Caffeine actually decreases exercise-induced myocardial flow, or in other words, limits the body’s ability to increase blood flow to the heart. This can be dangerous rather than beneficial to athletes.

“Athletes have been searching for that one magical substance that is going to make them better than anyone else, but the truth is, there is none,” Higginson said. “Caffeine can increase someone’s energy for a time, but that will wear off and come with harmful side effects. Diet, dedication and determination is what make you better, period.”

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