Energy Drinks' Effects on Student-Athletes and Implications for Athletic Departments

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Energy Drinks' Effects on Student-Athletes and Implications for Athletic Departments

The worldwide market for so-called energy drink has grown exponentially in the last decade. The primary targets of the industry's marketing campaigns are young adults. As a result, university and college athletes are frequent consumers of the products. The effects of these beverages can be quite significant. Therefore, their use by student-athletes requires analysis, results of which administrators and coaches need to be aware of so that they can share this knowledge with student-athletes in need of direction. They should also track the current trends among student-athletes concerning energy drinks.

Caffeine is the main "energy" ingredient in energy drinks. Its ability to enhance performance, under certain conditions, has been well documented. Yet consuming too much caffeine often has negative effects on overall wellness. Elite athletes continually strive for enhanced performance, trying a variety of strategies to reach that goal. Incorporating energy drinks within a training regime may be one such strategy. Many of the marketing campaigns explicitly state that an energy drink improves functioning, implying that it can boost athletic performance.

Binge drinking, too, has a negative effect on wellness, and research findings indicate that student-athletes--to a greater extent than other students--display a propensity to engage in it. On college campuses today, students commonly use energy drinks as an ingredient in alcoholic cocktails. When they consume alcohol and large amounts of caffeine in combination, many students find themselves drinking more and becoming more intoxicated, which can lead to serious health and other consequences.

History of the Energy Drink

Energy drinks entered the North American beverage market with exotic names, catchy slogans, and expensive marketing campaigns and now occupy a significant portion of the industry. They have become available everywhere, offered alongside soft drinks in vending machines, convenience stores, and grocery stores. Their manufacturers say that, in addition to providing a boost in energy, the drinks promote wellness through medicinal properties (they usually contain vitamins and/or ingredients like ginseng, guarana, and taurine). In 2005 such claims prompted Health Canada (the department of Canada's federal government responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health) to state, "Energy drinks are meant to supply mental and physical stimulation for a short period of time" (Safe Use of Energy Drinks, n.d., Background section, [paragraph] 2). Whatever their intended use and purported benefits, consumers today consume energy drinks for a variety of reasons: to boost energy, quench thirst, mix cocktails. Moreover, consumers are constantly pioneering new uses, such as flavoring smoothies with popular energy drinks.

The term energy drink suggests activity, and the uninformed consumer may assume that such a drink would support physical exercise. Locating energy drinks on store shelves adjacent to traditional sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade reinforces such an assumption of a positive relationship between their use and exercise. Caffeine, the main stimulant ingredient in most energy drinks, has been shown by research to offer questionable potential (at best) as a performance enhancer, in light of the broad variation in individuals' tolerance of it and also in light of an accompanying range of possible adverse effects (Caffeine--Performance, n.d.).

Drinks providing high doses of caffeine are not a new concept. Jolt cola, a precursor to today's energy drink phenomenon, was first distributed in the 1980s (Retelny, 2007). Jolt was not marketed as a medicinal health product as, to an extent, energy drinks are. But like energy drinks, it was and is laden with caffeine. …


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