Energy Drinks Before Practice and Games?
PBSCCS was contacted by a travel coach who wanted to know if it was OK for players to consume energy drinks before practice sessions and games? PBSCCS submitted this question to several sports nutritionists and the following was prepared from their responses.
Is it OK? NO! kids, teens and adults should get their energy from food. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that energy drinks are not food. They are supplements. Like most dietary supplements, they don’t offer much in terms of major energy producing nutrients and they can potentially have negative effects on health. As supplements, they are regulated by the FDA under a different set of regulations than those covering “conventional” foods and drug products. They contain a variety of chemicals instead of natural ingredients, and these chemicals can have negative effects on the body, especially when consumed in excess. One energy drink, for example, can contain several different stimulant ingredients that can affect heart rate, blood pressure and personal health when combined.
How do energy drinks give you energy? The answer – sugar and caffeine. Sugar (12-14 teaspoons per 8-oz can) provides quick energy, but can cause you to crash before your workout or game is over. And, once you begin to crash, you go back for another energy drink to re-start your engine. More cans equal more empty calories and more calories can contribute to weight gain. Sugar-free drinks aren’t better. Sugar is replaced by artificial sweeteners. They have fewer calories, but similar amounts of caffeine and the same side-effects as “regular” drinks – heart palpitations, dehydration and sleep disturbances.
Caffeine is a drug that stimulates the central nervous system and makes you “feel” less tired by affecting your brain. It can make you feel alert and ready for action, but there is no scientific, peer reviewed research that it will significantly improve long-term performance. Some kids believe that energy drinks help them remain awake and perform better, but no scientific proof exists that these drinks benefit overall health. Instead, regular use of these beverages has been shown to have a detrimental impact on learning and sleep. Too much caffeine has been shown to increase heart rate, constrict blood vessels, increase blood pressure, increase the release of glucose from the liver, dilate the pupils and increase fluid excretion. Energy drinks should not be used in place of water and sports drinks for hydration.
How much caffeine is too much for children and teens? The FDA has no guidelines for kids and caffeine, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that kids under the age of 12 should avoid caffeine and those over 12 should limit it to no more than 100 mg/day, the equivalent of approximately 2 cans of soda. According to the Mayo Clinic, regular use of energy drinks can rob the brain of proper rest, increase anxiety, nervousness, headaches and seizures. High daily caffeine consumption in children and teens has also been associated with high blood pressure, agitation, anxiety, poor sleep, rapid heart rate and altered mental states.
There is also research that indicates that energy drinks can be addictive from a psychological perspective. Some athletes feel that they can’t perform well without energy drinks leading to dependence. Kids who drink a lot of caffeine and then quit can experience withdrawal symptoms including: fatigue, headache, irritability, muscle pain and difficulty concentrating.
There are no shortcuts to good health and optimal performance. Energy drinks are crutches, not tools for long-term health and success. The keys to good health and performance are proper diet, hard work and adequate rest and recovery. Too much caffeine can mask fatigue. Athletes jacked up on caffeine can miss the body’s signal for rest which can contribute to chronic fatigue and increase the risk of overuse. injury.
What about coaches, parents and umpires who need that morning pick-up? The American Dietician Association (ADA) recommends that adults consume no more than 200-300 mg of caffeine per day from all sources. This equals about three 8-oz cups of coffee per day. For adults, many energy drinks consumed in moderation appear to be relatively safe, if you are not sensitive to caffeine or diabetic, but they do not provide “sustained super energy”. Long lasting energy comes from food, not caffeine and sugar. If you need an energy pick-up, improve your diet before downing an energy drink. Caffeine is addictive and you can develop a tolerance to it. You might get a boost from one can today, but it could take 3-4 to do the trick in the future. If you are feeling tired, losing focus and struggling with low energy, rethink your nutrition, hydration and sleep program. There is no magic bullet that will replace a diet of wholesome food, adequate water and other healthy liquids or a good night sleep.
Save your money – “Energy drinks can help reduce the feeling of fatigue, but they will not lead to increased energy metabolism.”
Read the labels. Many energy drinks contain 100-200 gm of caffeine per container. Some, however, contain 300-400 mg. Also look for warning labels. Red Bull, for example, has voluntarily posted the following warning on its labels – Not recommended for children, pregnant or nursing women and persons sensitive to caffeine. If you see a warning message on the can, think twice before consuming it. There is a reason that they put that warning on it and there is no good reason to take the risk.
Better ways to get energy? Improving your diet in the days leading up to and day of practice sessions and games is a good way improve energy level1. Getting more sleep and improving hydration will also help improve energy level2, 3.