Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

ENERGY DRINKS drifting in to foul territory?

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WASHINGTON -- Over the course of a six-month season, Tyler Clippard has to be ready nearly every game for the bullpen phone to ring and the voice on the other end to call his name. One night, the Washington Nationals reliever and his teammates could be packing up their belongings at 11 o'clock in Denver, and by 3 p.m. the next day they're walking into the visiting clubhouse in Cleveland. So around the fourth inning of most games, Clippard will reach for a Red Bull or 5-Hour Energy shot.

"Just to kinda make sure I'm not falling asleep out there in the bullpen," said Clippard, 28. "Just to make sure I'm up and attentive."

Since Major League Baseball banned amphetamines in 2005, baseball players have noticed an increase in the consumption of energy drinks, which are also a fast-growing portion of the beverage industry. It's like drinking coffee at your cubicle to provide a boost on another long day at the office, just far stronger, and it can help offset the rigors of a relentless schedule. But it's not a practice all teams condone. The jump in usage -- and dependency -- has caught the attention of team and league medical officials.

The Washington Post emailed all 30 major league teams about their policy toward energy drinks. Of the 16 teams that responded, none said it banned the caffeine-loaded beverages. Five teams said they do not provide them to players despite the fact that the drinks are legal products and that some meet league standards governing supplements.

Each winter, MLB medical officials remind team doctors, trainers and strength coaches of the dangers of energy drinks.

"If you're having one, it's not a big deal," said Gary Green, MLB's medical director. "But there are so many things these days that contain stimulants, and my concern is when they start to get combined. That would be a worry. If someone is drinking coffee and then they're having caffeinated sodas and then they're using energy drinks and other things, it concerns me. A lot of the problems are dose-dependent."

And especially around this hot and humid time of the season, high caffeine intake can lead to dehydration, which can put players at a higher risk of muscle cramping, strains or heat-related illnesses. In 2009, Houston Astros reliever Wesley Wright landed in the hospital after reportedly drinking several energy drinks and soft drinks before a game, which led the team to stop providing them for players.

While none of the 16 teams that replied to the email said they ban energy drinks, they don't exactly encourage their use. The Astros, Arizona Diamondbacks, Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Orioles and Colorado Rockies said they do not provide energy drinks to the players.

The Diamondbacks "discourage" any use of energy drinks, a team spokesman said, while a Rockies spokesman said the club encourages "a multifaceted recovery approach to lessen fatigue and the reliance on caffeinated products."

An average eight-ounce serving of coffee contains 100 milligrams of caffeine, an 8.4-ounce can of Red Bull contains 83 milligrams and a 5-Hour Energy shot has 215 milligrams, according to a Consumer Reports study.

The American Beverage Association, which represents several companies in the nonalcoholic beverage industry, including Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar, preaches moderation for energy drinks.

"Most energy drinks actually contain significantly less caffeine than a similarly-sized coffeehouse coffee," an ABA spokeswoman said in an email. "Moreover, caffeine has been safely consumed -- in a variety of foods and beverages -- around the world for hundreds of years. When it comes to professional athletes, perhaps the most important thing is that they stay hydrated, and our industry provides many options for them to do so."

Even some teams that provide energy drinks, such as the Chicago White Sox, are cautious. "Our training staff encourages a 'food-first' approach for players regarding energy, and we do stress moderation," a team spokesman said. The New York Mets "monitor but don't ban," according to a team spokesman.

Some research has shown that caffeine in low doses can boost performance, Green said. In 2004, caffeine was dropped from the World Anti-Doping Agency's prohibited list and is now on a list of monitored substances.

The NCAA doesn't allow schools to provide athletes with energy drinks and bans caffeine consumption in high doses.

At the heart of baseball players' usage of energy drinks is the schedule. No other professional sport has such a grinding itinerary. The NFL plays 16 games over four months, the NBA schedules 82 games over 51/2 months, the NHL plays 82 games over 71/2 months and MLS spreads 34 games out over eight months. None plays as many games per week as professional baseball, and there are side effects. A February study by University of Vanderbilt researchers found that players were more likely to swing at pitches outside the strike zone in September than in April, a trend attributed to fatigue that had worsened since the 2005 amphetamine ban.

-- Washington Post

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 14, 2013 A1

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