I first came across the idea to tackle the topic of caffeine as a I was doing research for a different subject. I read some compelling literature that stated caffeine had a direct effect on the development and functionality of the central nervous system. Given the amount of soda, sweet tea and energy drinks I see consumed by young athletes in a given weekend, it seemed that further research into this topic was warranted. That turned out to be an understatement as I have turned the subject into two part series.
Let me first preface this blog by stating that I am neither a doctor nor a nutritionist. The following is a presentation of findings by various articles, studies and research trials. It is recommended that any changes to an individual’s diet be discussed with a qualified professional.
There have been countless studies (more than 70) with regards to caffeine and its benefits to production and endurance in adult athletes. I would like to keep the focus on young athletes, but there is a point to be made here. The studies indicate that the benefits are for endurance (aerobic) activities. There is a negligible effect on sprinters or anaerobic activity. Baseball is 90% anaerobic.
It should be noted that there are studies that show both the positive and negative influences of caffeine in teenagers ranging from increased memory retention to risky behavior such as fighting. For the sake of this blog, I am going to limit the discussion to athletes (specifically baseball players) between the ages of 8 and 18.
The generally recommended level for caffeine consumption for teens appears to be around 100 mg per day. For adolescents, it is even less. To put that in perspective, here is a link published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest containing caffeine values for a host of consumer products.
http://www.cspinet.org/new/cafchart.htm. (As stated at the bottom of their web page, the data was largely acquired from corporate websites or direct inquiries)
Now to the question at hand. How does this affect the young athlete? As nutrition and a balanced diet are a common issue amongst all young athletes, it is as good a place to start as any. Simply put, if your athlete is drinking the aforementioned beverages, they are most likely not consuming necessary nutrients into their bodies in order to develop their skeletal, muscular and nervous systems.
In addition to not receiving necessary nutrients, caffeine is also known to cause calcium to be excreted from the body at a rate of 5 mg per every 150 mg consumed. Caffeine also inhibits the absorption of calcium through the digestive tract. Calcium is necessary for bone growth, bone mass, nervous system impulses and muscle contractions. Aside from the obvious potential for skeletal issues, an athlete seeking peak performance needs a highly functional nervous system and needs to be able to control muscle contractions in order to properly execute and repeat mechanics.
Caffeine is known to inhibit the absorption of Vitamin D. Vitamin D has an important role in how calcium is absorbed and used.
Caffeine is known to inhibit the absorption of Iron. Iron is necessary for red blood cell production. Red blood cells are responsible for distributing oxygen throughout the body. Lack of iron can result in fatigue in athletes.
Caffeine is also known to inhibit vitamins A (eye sight) and H (cell growth, production of fatty acids, metabolism of fats and proteins, aids process in which energy is released from food, healthy nerve tissue and bone marrow, helps with the transfer of carbon dioxide, helps maintain steady blood sugar level).
That will conclude Part I of the series on caffeine. I will post Part II next Monday. It will touch on caffeine as a diuretic, effects on essential minerals, the sugar in most caffeinated beverages, and potential sleep issues.