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Published July 13, 2023

Energy Drinks and Athletics

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The Dakotan
| The Dakotan
Cassie Heald (Photo: submitted)
Cassie Heald (Photo: submitted)

Trinity Health Release

MINOT — It may seem harmless – like a cup of coffee in the morning. But research shows that gulping down an energy drink before a big game or at any other time could be counterproductive at best and, in some cases, downright dangerous.

Energy drinks, highly caffeinated beverages that often contain a host of other ingredients, have been under scrutiny by health experts due to a long list of possible side effects.

Trinity Health Sports Medicine has long cautioned against energy drink consumption for the athletic population. “It isn’t just the caffeine,” said Certified Athletic Trainer Cassandra Heald, ATC. “It’s the extra stuff in energy drinks like taurine, which is an amino acid, and guarana, a plant high in caffeine that’s a common ingredient in energy drinks and can be unsafe in large amounts.”

While some people consume energy drinks to enhance physical function, they can produce physiological effects that negatively impact athletic performance, according to Heald. “Instead of enhancing performance they can make you jittery and unable to focus,” she said. Energy drinks have also been shown to cause an elevation in heart rate and trigger arrhythmias such as Afib and rapid heartbeat.

The American College of Sports Medicine released a statement on energy drinks in 2018. It provides guidance on energy drinks, primarily due to the dangers they pose to at-risk populations such as children, who are the most vulnerable and the target of marketing efforts. “Our review of the available science showed that excessive levels of caffeine found in energy drinks can have adverse effects on cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal, renal and endocrine systems, as well as psychiatric symptoms,” the statement said.

As Heald noted, it isn’t just caffeine that is at issue. A 2017 American Heart Association trial found that people experienced higher blood pressure four hours after consuming either an energy drink or a different caffeinated drink that was used as a control for comparison. The revealing results showed that participants who had consumed the energy drink still had higher blood pressure six hours after ingesting it, suggesting that ingredients other than caffeine in these products were helping to play a role in adverse side effects.

These and other scientific studies have motivated Sports Medicine professionals to alert athletes about the risks associated with energy drinks. Heald has compiled a display and one-sheet handout to help educate individuals and families about the caffeine content of energy drinks, what other ingredients they contain and their possible side effects.

“It’s something that I take personally because as a certified athletic trainer I look at the overall well-being of an athlete,” Heald said. “We have a comprehensive program that deals with many aspects of sports medicine – injury prevention, for example. We know injuries can occur, and we’ll be there to take care of them. But there are certain things we educate on in the hope we’ll never have to deal with; one is a cardiac emergency. We know that consuming energy drinks can increase that risk. That’s why we urge athletes against it.”

Heald lists several healthier options that can also boost energy. They include regular coffee, Matcha (a green tea drink containing caffeine), milk (contains taurine), green juice (contains B vitamins), ginseng tea, and green tea drinks that contain guarana. “Eating healthy is also important,” she says. “If you’re eating the right foods, that will give you energy. If you want something extra, go with coffee; go with the green tea drinks.”

For further information and to view Heald’s energy drinks handout, visit: trinityhealth.org/services/sports-medicine/

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