Young athletes and energy drinks: A bad mix?

Excerpt Written by Robyn Norwood, Special for USA TODAY.   Click the link at the bottom to read the full article.

“The Gatorade cooler and the coffee pot in the locker room have competition.

From youth playing fields to major league clubhouses, caffeinated energy drinks such as Red Bull and its scores of cousins have become a familiar presence in sports.

“The bottom line is, it’s a long season. You’re going to do what you have to do, whether you feel like you have to jump into a cryogenic freezing tank or a hyperbaric chamber or drink a Red Bull,” said Texas Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson, a World Series starter who says he has never used alcohol or drugs but consumes energy drinks socially and to prepare himself to pitch. “I see nothing wrong with drinking Red Bull.”

Some athletes and industry officials compare the beverages to a cup of coffee.

But doctors and other experts increasingly warn of misunderstandings about energy drinks’ contents, lax labeling requirements and the risks of high doses of caffeine — particularly to young athletes.

In June, a clinical report in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, warned that “stimulant-containing energy drinks have no place in the diets of children or adolescents.”

In October, the National Federation of State High School Associations cautioned that caffeinated energy drinks — often confused with such products as Gatorade, a fluid replacement drink — should not be consumed before, during or after physical activity because they could raise the risk of dehydration and increase the chance of potentially fatal heat illnesses. The organization also warned of possible interactions with prescription medications — including stimulants used to treat ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In Orange County, Calif., at least four high school football players were taken to the emergency room last season with persistent tachycardia, or rapid heartbeats, said Michael F. Shepard, a team physician and member of the California Interscholastic Federation’s state medical advisory board.

“All four had had supercaffeinated drinks,” Shepard said. “If you add dehydration or flu or muscle-building supplements like creatine to that, there can be an increased risk of fatal cardiac arrhythmia.

“These four kids all did fine. But the heart’s a muscle, too.”

At issue is a dizzying array of products with widely varying levels of caffeine, sugars, carbohydrates and other additives, including herbal supplements.

Red Bull, the first such drink on the U.S. market, in 1997, has been surpassed in national sales volume by Monster energy drinks in what is now a $7.7 billion industry, according to the trade publication Beverage Digest. Rockstar energy drinks rank third.

Most best-selling energy drinks contain about 80 milligrams of caffeine per 8 ounces, though they are often sold in containers as large as 20 to 24 ounces. Other more extreme products abound, some of them in mix-your-own powders or concentrates, in strengths researchers say range from about 50 to 500 milligrams per serving. At their maximum strength, energy drinks contain about 300 milligrams more than the 2-ounce shots of 5-hour Energy frequently seen near checkout counters.

Beverage industry officials contend their products are not dangerous when used in moderation by healthy people.”

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