One of the latest fads among high school athletes is guzzling energy drinks and amping up on vitamin supplements, but a number of experts say they may be doing more harm than good.
"It's that win in the bottle, the energy drink, the extra vitamins. Our society has become so caught up with it," said Soddy-Daisy wrestling coach Steve Henry, who continually warned his athletes this past season. "Some were taking a pill that's supposedly good for electrolytes, and another was drinking those energy drinks.
"If you're actually that feeble-minded to think that one thing is the difference in winning and losing, then you're stupid. It's like all the work and sweat every day doesn't mean anything. We're in a society where all of those drinks and pills are pushed."
A New York Times article in 2008 said that super-caffeinated energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster, Full Throttle and Amp had surged in popularity in the past decade and that the 12-24 age group had pushed annual sales over $3 billion. Those drinks contain stimulants such as caffeine and herbal supplements.
Higher consumption of such drinks in teens is associated with "toxic jock" behavior, a mix of risky and aggressive behavior including substance abuse, according to a report in The Journal of American College Health written by Kathleen Miller, an addiction researcher at the University of Buffalo.
"It appears the kids who are heavily into drinking energy drinks are more likely to be the ones who are inclined toward taking risks," she wrote.
Bradley Central wrestling coach Steve Logsdon worries even about the five-hour energy drink.
"We don't encourage that. You're talking about them putting a stimulant in their body," he said. "With wrestlers you're talking about kids who are controlling their weight and who may not have the food intake to absorb some of that stuff.
"I don't like herbal stimulants. We like [the wrestlers] to stay hydrated - Pedialyte, Gatorade or Powerade - but I am anti-nicotine, anti-alchohol. Some of that stuff increases your blood pressure and your heart rate. It scares me. There is no magic bullet or substitute for hard work. I worry about the risk they're taking."
In a study released earlier this week, pediatric researchers at the University of Miami said energy drinks may cause adverse problems for children, especially those with diabetes, cardiac abnormalities or mood and behavioral disorders.
"The known and unknown pharmacology of agents included in such drinks, combined with reports of toxicity, raises concern for potentially serious adverse effects in association with energy-drink use," the researchers wrote. "In the short term, pediatricians need to be aware of the possible effects of energy drinks in vulnerable populations and screen for consumption to educate families."
Website Pain4glory.com gives research on the 5-hour Energy drink and expresses concerns about excessive amounts of vitamins B6, B12, B3 and B9 - 2000 percent daily value of B6 and 8,333 percent of B12. Vitamin B is water soluble but Pain4glory.com points out that water would have to be "megadosed" to expel the unused B vitamins.
"The main component to most of the energy drinks is caffeine and sugar - the former in high doses, approximately two times to three times a cup of Starbucks," local physician Keith Helton said. "The net effect is increased dehydration, increase in blood pressure and increase in heart rate and a more irregular pulse. So most healthy young folks can handle this, but why do it? It really has limited benefit, if any, and lots of potential complications.
"With wrestlers in particular who have been cutting weight, they are already dehydrated. It could theoretically increase their risk of kidney damage."
Wrestling coaches aren't the only ones who have expressed concern.
"I don't see a lot of my guys drinking [energy drinks]," Soddy-Daisy baseball coach Jared Hensley said. "We sure don't feel like they're going to give us any edge or be beneficial to our success. Speeding up your heart before you play is not a good idea."
Rhea County football coach Jason Fitzgerald keeps his players on campus on Fridays during the season, thus limiting opportunities for those who might want to use such drinks or vitamins.
"It's kind of scary," he said. "I guess I would liken it to the times athletes were taking 'speed,' a little pill, for energy."
The Virginia High School League, which governs all public school athletics in the state, became the first in the United States to ban energy drinks from school practices and games. The ban came after a presentation by the VHSL sports medicine committee, which cited "potential for significant medical consequences" due to hydration and high caffeine levels.
Among drinks specifically cited were Red Bull, Rockstar and Monster.
The TSSAA hasn't yet taken such a stance, but assistant director Mark Reeves said, "Our advice would be that you have to be careful with all that stuff, especially supplements."
The TSSAA has contracted with the Taylor Hooten Foundation in Texas to speak at its athletic directors conference in April.
"We want to increase awareness for steroids and supplements, and energy drinks could fall into that realm," Reeves said.
The best thing to do with steroids, supplements and energy drinks is to leave them alone, advised Baylor School athletic trainer Eddie Davis.
"I haven't looked at all the ingredients of the 5-Hour, but most of those [drinks] are chock-full of caffeine and I've seen kids with increased heart rates," Davis said. "I know those [drinks] can lead to dehydration. My gut feeling is that they're a bad idea. I'm an old-school guy - eat right and hydrate and go out and do your best.
"Unfortunately, this is a society where everyone is looking for a shortcut. It's looking for an edge, and that edge usually winds up with [an athlete] doing himself damage."
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765.