Caffeine Abuse In Sports – Parliamentary Inquiry Reignites The Debate

Breaking news from an Australian Parliamentary Inquiry into Sports Science has reignited the ongoing debate on drug abuse in elite and even teen sports.

This time it's not just about peptides or illicit performance-enhancing drugs, it's about a drug we all know and many of us love – caffeine.

Caffeine may seem an innocent enough substance. There are no age restrictions on its purchase, it is readily available in a variety of flavours and forms and at present, the use of caffeine in sport is not restricted or prohibited.

Caffeine was removed from the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances in 2004 due to impracticalities around testing for caffeine, variations in individual sensitivity to caffeine and conflicting evidence about optimal dosage and effects of caffeine on sports performance.  

While low-moderate caffeine use may provide individuals with some positive effects such as reduced fatigue and increased alertness, the effects of high caffeine intake or caffeine abuse can be dangerous, even deadly. 

At high intakes, caffeine can increased heart rate, over-arousal, impair fine motor control and technique, disrupt sleep and increase anxiety. In these cases, caffeine may actually impair sports performance rather than improve it.

Findings revealed in the recent inquiry raised concerns about the excessive use of caffeine in sports as some athletes abuse it, believing it will give them a performance advantage over their competitors. 

Even more concerning was the reporting of teenagers using high amounts of concentrated forms of caffeine (eg. No-Doz tablets and energy drinks) prior to participating in sporting events.  

This highlights a real problem with the competitive sporting culture in Australia, as young people are becoming involved in the obsession of gaining a competitive edge long before reaching the elite sporting arena. 

As Dr. Mazanov, a psychologist and sports science researcher stated in the recent Senate Hearing for the Sports Science Inquiry,         “We see the myth of sports science being taken down to all levels of sport… We need to do more than just protect those people at the top of the game, who are vulnerable but still adults.

We need to protect those at the bottom of the game, who are incredibly vulnerable, even to their parents.”


What Is A Safe Caffeine Intake? 

Here lies a major problem with caffeine- it is difficult to establish a general 'safe' caffeine intake (above nothing), as individual genetic differences determine the way caffeine affects us. 

Some people may have variations to the gene known to be responsible for around 95% of caffeine metabolism, called CYP1a2. These variations down-regulate the function of this gene leading to slower caffeine metabolism.

Slow metabolisers of caffeine have been found to be at significantly increased risk of the adverse effects such as cardiovascular events if they abuse caffeine. 

In contrast, individuals without any variation to the CYP1a2 gene are known as fast caffeine metabolisers and are believed to be able to handle higher amounts of caffeine than slow metabolisers, without adverse effects.

To find out whether you are a fast or slow caffeine metaboliser and get a better idea of a safe caffeine intake for YOU, read more here. 


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