Caffeine Ingestion in Adolescent and Young Adult Athletes

Posted December 18, 2017

By Beth Druvenga, M.S. Ed, LAT, ATC

“Caffeine is the most available and widely used psychoactive substance in the world.”1 In the past few years, questions about caffeine consumption has become a popular topic. Especially when it relates to extreme cases involving the death of a teenager. Most recently, in May a young high school boy from South Carolina passed away after consuming a large diet Mountain Dew, a café latte from McDonalds and some type of energy drink in a two hour time period.2 Coroner and toxicology reports indicated he had no heart condition and suggested the caffeine consumption may have induced an arrhythmia.2 Of course, this is an extreme example of what acute caffeine overdose may lead to, but it also raises the question of how do Athletic Trainers (ATs) address the topic of caffeine consumption with our student athletes aged 12-22?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set a threshold for supplements (energy shots, pre-workouts, etc.) containing caffeine at 200mg per dose3 but also states caffeine in doses up to 400mg a day is safe. That amount is equivalent to consuming 4-5 cups of coffee, or 10 cans of soda, or 2 energy shot drinks a day.2,4-5The NCAA prohibits caffeine in amounts equal to or exceeding 500mg 2-3 hours prior to an event and consuming caffeine in a dose equal to or greater than that amount can result in a positive drug test.

Although caffeine is considered a safe substance, it has well known adverse effects on adults and research has yet to determine the adverse effects on children and adolescents.3 Ingesting too much caffeine can cause side effects such as headache, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, restlessness, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, dizziness, increased heart rate, muscle tremors, potential for arrhythmia and potential for death (in very rare cases).4-5 Approximately 73 percent of children (6-12 years old) consume caffeine on a given day.3 83 percent of teenagers (13-18 years old) claim to consume caffeine regularly, and 96 percent of teenagers state they consume caffeine occasionally.6

Soda accounts for a majority of caffeine intake, followed by coffee and energy drinks. Sales data for energy drinks show that these products saw a six fold increase in sales from the year 2000 to 2010.3 In that same time period, there was also a doubling of visits to emergency departments related to energy drink consumption for young adults aged 18-25.3

Caffeine inhibits the release of catecholamines including epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine; these are the hormones responsible for the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response creates many physiological reactions including but not limited to accelerating the heart rate. This may be detrimental to those participating in intense bouts of exercise such as practice or games where their heart rates already have the potential to be high.

According to Turton et al1, participants in a Canadian health class exhibited high amounts of awareness regarding beverages which contained caffeine and the negative health effects caffeine overconsumption may have. However, they still consumed caffeinated beverages with the desire of increased energy, or in some cases, the idea that drinking caffeinated beverages made them feel more mature. The overarching theme is that these students understood the effects caffeinated beverages may have, and though they were aware of both positive and negative benefits, they continued to consume these beverages in order to gain a desired response or fit in to social norms.

Education regarding caffeine consumption, in soda, tea, energy drinks, coffee or supplemental form needs to be addressed with our student athletes ranging from 12-22 years old. These educational concepts should address gaining energy from a healthier diet and getting adequate sleep which can lessen the need for caffeine. Education can also address the parental role of guiding children toward healthier energy options and creating an environment which gives them access to these healthier options.

As ATs, we are given the enormous opportunity to instill healthy habits into our athletes. They are moldable, and we should use every opportunity to educate them on the negatives and positives of caffeine consumption.


1. Turton, P., Piche, L., & Battram, D. S. (2016). Adolescent Attitudes and Beliefs Regarding Caffeine and the Consumption of Caffeinated Beverages. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 181-189.

2. Fox, M. (2017, May 15). Caffeine Overdose Killed South Carolina Teen, Coroner Rules. RetrievedSeptember 06, 2017, from NBC News:

3. Branum, A. M., Rossen, L. M., & Schoendorf, K. C. (2014). Trends in Caffeine Intake Among US Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 386-393.

4. Nutrition and healthy eating. (2017, April 14). Retrieved September 09, 2017, from Mayo Clinic:

5. Nutrition and Healthy Eating. (2017, March 08). Retrieved September 09, 2017, from Mayo Clinic:

6. Brazier, Y. (2016, March 08). Adolescents drink too much caffeine. Retrieved September 06, 2017, from Medical News Today:

About the Author


Beth Druvenga is an Athletic Trainer currently living in northern Virginia. She has experience working in both a collegiate and high school setting. Druvenga is originally from Iowa where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Athletic Training from Central College in 2012. She graduated from Old Dominion University in 2014 with a Master of Science in Education. Her professional interests include patient-reported outcomes, psychology of injury and rehabilitation as well as using yoga to increase flexibility.