Taking a new supplement to get faster gains in the gym or perform better in your sport can be tempting. Sports supplements including “pre-workout,” protein powder, and various pills have become popular ways for some people to boost their workout routines.
But Stefan Pasiakos, director of the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, told Business Insider that “there needs to be better appreciation and attention to anything that should be stimulant-related,” including sports supplements. which contains caffeine.
That’s because, in large doses taken quickly, caffeine in sports supplements can cause dangerous health effects including nausea or vomiting, irregular heartbeat, and even death.
Some caffeine can enhance athletic performance
Moderate amounts of caffeine have been shown to boost performance.
“Caffeine for the most part is pretty harmless,” Bill Gurley, chief scientist at the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi, previously told Business Insider.
Having little caffeine before exerciselike a cup of coffee or green tea, can improve your performance and make exercise more enjoyable.
In 2021, the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that caffeine ingestion appears to be most beneficial for aerobic endurance sports such as cycling, running, and swimming. The benefits depend largely on the individual athlete, genetics, and lifestyle factors.
The most beneficial dose has been found to be between 3 and 6mg of caffeine per kg of body weight. For a person weighing 150 pounds, that’s about 200-400mg of caffeine or about two to four cups of coffee.
But consuming caffeine in excess of this amount has not been found to further enhance athletic performance, and may harm your health.
Too much caffeine can be dangerous
When the amount of caffeine consumed exceeds 400mg, things can become dangerous even for healthy people. Too much caffeine can lead to vomiting, cramps, and a fast, irregular heartbeat. In very high doses, it can cause unconsciousness and death.
In 2018, a man in Australia died after drinking a highly caffeinated protein shake.
In 2021, a The 20-year-old said he had a heart attack after swallowing a dry scoop of a highly caffeinated pre-workout supplement.
One of the problems with sports supplements, Gurley said, is “you can get a lot of caffeine very quickly.”
It’s easier to overdose on caffeine in supplement form because you only need to take one to two pills or a scoop of powder, as opposed to drinking 15 cups of coffee.
Caffeine in supplements can lead to overheating
Using stimulants, including supplements that contain caffeine, can also make it harder to tell if you’re becoming overheated. This is a risk that increases when people take stimulants and do strenuous exercise or exercise in hot or humid conditions.
“Exercise alone puts a lot of strain on your cardiovascular system,” says Gurley. “Then you throw in a bunch of stimulants that are known to have adverse cardiovascular effects, and it’s a bad combination.”
Exercise supplements are not as regulated as prescription drugs
Another problem, both Gurley and Pasiakos said, is that exercise supplements often contain many different ingredients, and don’t necessarily say exactly what’s in them. That’s because supplements aren’t regulated as tightly as prescription drugs.
“There are various products out there that claim to boost performance, boost energy, and many of them have a proprietary blend,” Pasiakos said. But products that contain a proprietary blend “don’t have to say what’s in them.”
So whether you plan to start a new workout routine soon or just continue an old one think before choosing a caffeine-filled workout supplement.
“When I was younger, I would try all kinds of purported performance-enhancing supplements, most of which contained some type of stimulant,” Pasiakos said. “However that has changed, and I know there is no substitute for good nutrition, exercise, and sleep.”
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