Caffeine: A competitive edge

What science says about sports drinks, energy drinks and athletes

a cup of coffee with milk

Besides the obvious benefit of giving you that feeling of extra energy to stay awake, does caffeine have a place in the sports diet?

Caffeine often has the label of an ergogenic aid. That is any substance that helps to improve performance during sport. Not surprisingly, this purported effect has been comprehensively examined in numerous studies with athletes.

Research has shown that caffeine, in moderate amounts, can have positive effects on endurance performance. Caffeine can help prolong the time to fatigue. This allows the athlete to achieve a longer and higher level of performance than without caffeine. A typical eight-ounce cup of coffee has 110 to 150 mg of caffeine per serving. Soda has about 50 to 100 mg per serving.

Consuming 100 to 200 mg before exercise is enough to achieve performance benefits. However, more than 200 mg can have negative effects including headache, insomnia, nervousness, irregular heart rate and nausea. Notably, the benefits of caffeine during exercise are often more obvious in people who do not consume caffeine regularly.

Sports drinks vs energy drinks

Energy drinks are not the same as sports drinks. A sports drink is supposed to replace water, carbohydrates and electrolytes during training and competition. It usually contains no caffeine.

An energy drink, on the other hand, has a blend of caffeine and other ingredients including taurine, guarana and glucuronolactone that are used as stimulants on the central nervous system.

Safety concerns with energy drinks

Energy drinks can be dangerous because the amount of caffeine varies greatly by brand, with some having the caffeine content equal to 14 cans of soda.

Although it may be easy to blame all of the negative effects on caffeine, the effect of combining certain stimulants is still unclear and requires more research. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement that energy drinks are not appropriate for children and adolescents because of the health risks that these products pose.

The trend of mixing energy drinks and alcohol has begun to emerge. This poses serious potential health consequences when the energy drink masks the effect of the alcohol. Of course, athletes should also keep in mind that excessive alcohol consumption is dangerous, unhealthy and can negate some of the positive effects of training.

Preferred ways to combat fatigue

The best way to stay at the top of your game:

  • Make sleep a priority.
  • Eat small meals throughout the day. These provide fuel for your brain and muscles, which both rely on glucose (a carbohydrate) as an energy source.
  • Focus on eating fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grains to provide your body with the carbohydrates it needs. Combining protein with your carbohydrate intake following a workout can improve muscle recovery even more — consider chocolate milk or a bagel with peanut butter.
  • Each day, emphasize eating lean meats, fish, nuts, and beans to help ensure you get adequate protein.
  • And don’t forget to stay hydrated. Insufficient hydration can prompt early and greater fatigue during physical activity.

You will feel so much better and full of energy by simply getting rest, being hydrated and being well nourished.

Posted In Healthy Living, Sports Medicine

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