Senior Mitchell Tyler is going to vomit.
He’s lined up on the Lawrence 30 yard line. He can’t be sick or sluggish. He needs to move.
The center snaps the ball. Tyler rounds his outside blocker, snatches a pass out of mid-air and begins a 70 yard sprint into the endzone.
Tyler barely has time to celebrate the touchdown with his teammates. Less than a minute later, he is bent over a sideline trashcan. He empties his stomach of the only thing he consumed after school — a Five Hour Energy drink.
From the sidelines, athletic trainer Ron Wollenhaupt noticed a difference in Tyler throughout the Lawrence game. It’s easy for him to detect when a typically calm player like Tyler has downed an energy drink before a game. The difference in Tyler is small — Wollenhaupt notices that he is a little more twitchy and jumpy.
But Tyler’s teammates and other athletes often have more noticeable symptoms. Their irritability skyrockets and they snap at coaches and fellow players. Most often, energy drinks make athletes anxious. They’ll fret on the sidelines, talking constantly in an effort to calm their nerves.
Wollenhaupt worries about this caffeine-induced change of personality in his players. But the greatest concern for Wollenhaupt and other professionals is caffeine’s ability to overstimulate the heart, which can cause an athlete to get sick like Tyler or collapse on the field.
In extreme cases, a caffeine-induced spike in heart rate can cause the player to have a heart attack or stroke on the field.
“That’s my biggest concern with caffeine, is seeing a player just go down in the middle of a [game],” Wollenhaupt said. “It’s a very scary thing, but it’s a very real danger. These athletes don’t realize how much risk they’re at.”
A single 1.93 ounce container of Five Hour Energy packs 200 milligrams of caffeine — the maximum a teenager can consume in a day without creating health risks, according to the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions.
According to Kansas City Internal Medicine cardiologist Dr. Keith Jantz, any amount of caffeine causes symptoms such as shaking hands, increased aggression, hot flashes and difficulty focusing. An unhealthy amount – begins to take a toll on the heart by inducing an unhealthy heart rate.
The way caffeine creates a sense of being awake is by accelerating heart rate. Athletes already experience a raised heart rate during physical exercise; when caffeine is added to the equation, athletes risk a dangerous state of heart rate called tachycardia. In the state of tachycardia, the heart beats so quickly that it’s impossible to separate heart beats.
According to Jantz, this intensified heart rate puts the body under high levels of stress, wreaking havoc on the nervous system. As an athletic trainer, Wollenhaupt urges against the usage of energy drinks out of fear of caffeine’s damaging effects.
“Athletes think they need energy drinks,” Wollenhaupt said. “They think they have to have the edge. But honestly, these drinks do more harm than anything. You have the high heart rate, you have the anxiety, and then on top of it the kids are getting addicted to all that caffeine.”
Wollenhaupt feels that energy drink companies “trick” athletes and students into believing those products will boost their performances through effective marketing.
Red Bull will give you wings. Five Hour Energy is made for hard working people. Monster pours money into promotions for NASCAR drivers, stunt bikers, rock climbers — “super-athletes” who push the limits of danger and speed.
All of these marketing ploys tell students and athletes one thing — energy drinks will make them faster, stronger, more alert and more hard working.
Yet these effects are rarely seen in teenagers, according to Wollenhaupt. In fact, he has often noticed that the drinks diminish an athlete’s performance by increasing their aggression. A football player, for instance, will be more likely to jump offsides or target another player due to this personality change.
“Those high caffeine levels, all they do is get too jacked up,” Wollenhaupt said. “These kids and athletes do not need the energy from energy drinks. They make them jumpy. They make them nervous, and that takes away from how well they do.”
Caffeine doesn’t just detract from physical performances — it can also become an addiction. As a stimulant, caffeine has addictive qualities, which are enhanced in teenagers according to research from the University of Pittsburgh. When high school students try to stop relying on caffeine, Jantz says they often experience cramps, nausea, headaches and exhaustion. Prolonged usage due to addiction is the main concern of cardiovascular professionals such as Jantz.
“It’s going to open you up to a whole range of cardiovascular problems down the road,” Jantz said. “You put all that stress and wear and tear on your heart muscle and the tissue around it, and you’ll cause an enlarged heart a high likelihood of suffering a heart attack later on.”
Tyler is ranked as the fifth best receiver in the Sunflower League with over 400 receiving yards. He has been a part of every aspect of the team’s success as a running back, kicker, defensive back and receiver throughout the season. But Tyler attributes none of this performance to his Five Hour Energy tradition.
When his teammates first introduced him to Five Hour Energy, Tyler simply wanted to get a pre-game “buzz” that would boost his speed and performance. After five years, a pre-game shot of the drink had become a habit.
Now that he has seen more obvious risks, that “boost” is becoming less worth it to Tyler.
“It just became this mental thing that I thought I needed,” Tyler said. “But like Coach [Dustin Delaney] is always saying, we don’t need them. All the energy you need you get in that burst of adrenaline at kickoff. If you’re trying to use energy drinks, you’re just hurting yourself.”