Energy Drinks and Teen Athletes

February 10, 2012 at 1:07 pm Leave a comment

The body uses energy to fuel activity. The most common energy is glucose, which comes mainly from carbohydrates and from stored supplies of glycogen in muscles and the liver. Think of the body as a car. It needs fuel to run and glucose is its fuel of choice.

The best energy comes from whole food – fruits, vegetables, whole grains. But, during exercise lasting longer than 1 hour, it is difficult to whip out a PB&J. That’s where drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade can come in handy. They contain carbohydrates in the right combination with water to be rapidly absorbed and used for fuel. Gatorade and Powerade are NOT what I am referring to as energy drinks.

Energy drinks contain caffeine. But, that’s not all they contain. Their concoctions include additional stimulants that can be disguised by “natural” terms such as “geranium” or “citrus aurantium”. Here are some common terms seen on the ingredient list of energy drinks:

Proprietary Energy Blend: These words protect the manufacturer from divulging what and how much is contained in the drink because it is their “secret” formula. That is always scary.

Geranium: Geranium contains methylhexaneamine, a banned substance.

Yohimbe: A strong stimulant used in drugs in some countries

Guarana: A source of caffeine

Kola nut: A source of caffeine

Methylsynephrine: Also known as oxilofrine, it is a prohibited stimulant

Citrus aurantium: A source of synephrine with stimulant properties

Ma huang: A plant source of ephedra, a prohibited stimulant

Tyrosine: Can interact with medications, including those for ADD and ADHD

Phenylalanine: Can interact with medications, including those for ADD and ADHD

The National Federation of State High School Associations advised against consuming energy drinks before, during or after physical activity. These drinks can be especially dangerous in situations of low hydration and high heat.

In Orange County, California, at least four high school football players were taken to the emergency room with rapid heartbeats. All four of them had taken energy drinks.

Just how much caffeine is in an energy drink? The average amount is 80mg of caffeine/8oz.  But, these drinks often come in 20-24oz containers, so the intake could be as much as 240mg of caffeine if a teen were to down the whole container.  On top of that, certain herbal supplements can boost the effective level of caffeine.

Here are some comparisons of different products and amounts of caffeine they contain:

Coca-Cola                           12 oz                             34mg

Diet Coke                            12 oz                            46mg

Pepsi                                    12 oz                            38mg

Sprite                                    12 oz                              0

McDonald’s coffee            16 oz                         100mg

Starbucks latte                   16 oz                         150mg

Starbucks Pike Place        16 oz                         330mg

Amp                                      16oz                          160mg

Full Throttle                        16 oz                        197mg

Monster                                16 oz                        160mg

NOS                                       16 oz                        260mg

Red Bull                               16 oz                        154mg

Rockstar                               16 oz                      160mg

Spike Shooter                     8.4 oz                     300mg

Wired X 344                        16 oz                      344mg

5-hour Energy                      2oz                       207mg

What’s sad is that these drinks are directly marketed to young athletes. Manufacturers use popular athletes to represent their brand, then take the product to soccer tournaments and other events and distribute free samples to the young players. What happened to oranges and water?

A good resource for parents is NSF International, an independent non-profit company. NSF tests products for a “Certified for Sport” designation. They check for banned substances and accurate labeling. They will not certify any product that contains more than 150mg of caffeine per serving.

Caffeine can be beneficial for adult athletes. It should be taken in moderation. A clinical report in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, stated that “stimulant-containing energy drinks have no place in the diets of children or adolescents.” Whole food supplies the energy they need in the form they need.

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