The NCAA restriction on caffeine riddles coaches and athletes.
The NCAA lists eight restricted drug classes concerning banned drugs, gives a few examples from each class, and then leaves the athletes and school athletic departments to account for the rest – even stating that there is no complete list of banned substances.
Caffeine falls under the stimulant class of banned substances, and athletes will fail the test if they indicate above 14 micrograms per milliliter, a level which allows for common caffeine consumption. Caffeine is considered a performance enhancer, and any level above that concentration is deemed a deliberate attempt at doping.
But sometimes athletes do not realize how their body processes caffeine and then must deal with the repercussions of a failed drug test.
“It is very important to note that people metabolize caffeine at very different rates,” said Lynne Neukom, athletic training program director. “Differences in metabolism, medications, and certain diseases may significantly alter the rate in which caffeine is cleared from the body, so, we do not advocate their use. Athletes have tested positive for caffeine use; however, not in our athletic program. Some athletes [tested positive] after ingesting only 350 mg.”
For comparison, a 16 oz. Starbucks coffee is about 350 mg. of caffeine.
The penalty for failing a drug test does not only affect the athlete’s eligibility, but also their drug-use record.
“It is imperative that the athlete fully comprehends that if they fail an NCAA drug test, as administered by Drug Free Sport, that this will carry over for the rest of their lives,” Neukom said. “When filling out a job application, they must indicate that they have failed a drug test.”
Head men’s track and field coach Jeff Forino said that the NCAA prohibition of caffeine is a fair rule.
“Excess of anything alone is not good for you,” Forino said. “Caffeine definitely does make you sharper, but I don’t believe it really makes your performance that much better, and the level of caffeine that they are talking about is so high you would not feel good if you had that much in your body.”
Forino also said caffeine may even be considered a masking agent – another classification of banned drugs.
“A lot of people would take caffeine to speed up the excretion of other drugs. [The NCAA] comes up with all the rules because people find ways around the rules. Half of the stuff that is banned by the NCAA is masking agents that would help you get rid of weight or excrete other drugs faster,” Forino said.
However, the restriction on caffeine does not stop athletes from drinking energy drinks and consuming caffeine.
Forino said he often sees his athletes drinking Monster energy drinks.
Senior Anthony Manno, a member of the basketball team, said that he wouldn’t stop drinking coffee everyday either.
“[The coaches] just tell us to stay away from it. Obviously, most don’t – I drink coffee everyday. It all depends on how your body processes it. From what I am told, if I drink too much coffee before one of our games, and I get tested right there, I could be over the legal amount and then be banned for a year,” Manno said.
Manno said the restriction does not affect athletes’ consumption of caffeine and that many of his teammates take 5‑Hour Energy shots, which contain about 200 mg. of caffeine.
“I don’t think that the banned substances are really deterring anyone from taking stuff. In the big things, like steroids and human growth hormone, people aren’t going to be so quick to take that; but in the other things, like energy drinks and caffeine, I don’t see how banning it will deter athletes,” Manno said. “It’s caffeine – it’s a common, everyday thing in our culture, and it’s in everything – things that we drink, things that we eat.”