BY SHAYNA DEMICK
Co-Managing Mosaic Editor
It has recently come to my attention that caffeine and guarana (another source of caffeine) are classified as banned substances in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). While I initially thought this was new information, this ban was instated 15 years ago.
When I first heard about the ban on caffeine, I thought it was ridiculous and irrational. However, after conducting further research, I found the ban to be highly sensible.
In a 2009 press release, the NCAA announced that it would be limiting athletes’ consumption of caffeine and guarana. Guarana can be found in energy drinks such as Celcius, an energy drink that can often be found in the hands of students at the university.
A TikTok gained a large amount of traction in March 2022 that mentioned the NCAA banning Celsius. Online sources such as Pioneer Outlook are corroborating the video’s claim that NCAA college athletes can no longer consume the specific energy drink.
These claims are not necessarily true. Celsius drinks are not fully banned by the NCAA. As long as athletes do not consume enough caffeine to receive a positive drug test, they’re in the clear. According to the 2022-2023 NCAA Drug-Testing Program, an athlete will have a positive drug test if their urine’s caffeine concentration is greater than 15 micrograms per milliliter. That is about 500 milligrams of caffeine – over two Celcius drinks or six to eight cups of coffee – consumed within a few hours before an event or drug test.
While it may seem outrageous for caffeine to be a banned substance, the U.S. Olympic Committee Sports nutrition team created a caffeine fact sheet that explains the reasons behind the ban. Caffeine has been shown to improve endurance, reaction time and energy levels. It can also facilitate oxygen uptake and minimize fatigue. These effects would certainly enhance one’s performance, so why would the NCAA not place limits on caffeine?
According to Healthline, caffeine can also improve athletic performance by increasing adrenaline and endorphin production. Caffeine’s interaction with the central nervous system improves muscle performance. Caffeine can also facilitate fat-burning and raise body temperatures to burn more calories, enhancing physical strength and physique. Anabolic steroids, a famously-used banned substance, are often used to improve physical capabilities as well. They can aid muscle development and decrease recovery time, which caffeine can also do (see caffeine fact sheet).
Pre-workout, a highly caffeinated supplement intended to improve workout performance, is a popular product among college students. Pre-workout is shown to improve oxygen intake, endurance and training capacity. This makes it an enticing product for competitive athletes. However, pre-workout can contain up to 300 milligrams of caffeine, so having two servings of pre-workout could potentially result in a positive drug test. Regardless of the drug test, consuming this amount of caffeine is unsafe and can produce symptoms such as anxiety, quickened heart rate, higher blood pressure and shakiness, according to MedlinePlus.
Large quantities of caffeine can evoke physical effects similar to those of steroids and other banned drugs. Therefore I find caffeine’s classification as a banned substance to be justified. If a substance is being utilized to provide noticeable physical benefits, this benefit is potentially leading to an athletic advantage, infringing on the fairness of athletics.
Although I was aware that caffeine can enhance athletic performance, I neglected to consider the implications for college athletics when I first learned about the ban.
To the NCAA athletes out there, be cognizant of your caffeine usage. Read the caffeine fact sheet if you wish to educate yourself further on how to responsibly consume caffeine.
Shayna Demick is a sophomore environmental science major and the current co-managing Mosaic editor at The Review. Her opinions are her own and do not represent the majority opinion of The Review staff. She may be reached at email@example.com.