Energy Drinks and Your Heart
How to Avoid Caffeine Overdose for Athletes
A little caffeine can enhance your athletic performance and even boost fat-burning. However, too much caffeine can be a dangerous thing. Athletes often are inundated with advertisements for supplements and energy drinks that may contain caffeine. Regular consumption of these may result in you consuming more caffeine than is healthy or safe. To avoid caffeine overdose as an athlete, make sure you're properly hydrated at all times, be aware of the caffeine you're consuming, and get more balanced energy from other sources.
Ensuring Proper Hydration
Drink plenty of water before you exercise.The amount of water you need varies from person to person, but generally you want to maintain consistent hydration to avoid becoming dehydrated by exercise, especially if you sweat a lot.
- The easiest way to determine whether you're well hydrated is to look at the color of your urine. If it's clear, you're well hydrated. The darker your urine, the more water you need to drink.
- Start early in the day and rehydrate yourself regularly and consistently. Avoid chugging a large amount of water before starting exercise, however, since the sloshing in your stomach can make you feel sick.
- Since caffeine is a mild diuretic, you may need to drink more water than you would otherwise to counteract that effect.
Use sports drinks to recover electrolytes.Particularly if you're engaged in vigorous physical activity, you may need more than just water to replace the liquid and nutrients you lose through sweat. Sports drinks can assist with this as well as giving your body more energy.
- Read the labels on sports drinks carefully, and avoid those with added sugars. To avoid caffeine overdose, you also may want to avoid sports drinks that have any amount of caffeine added.
- Since most sports drinks have carbohydrates, sodium, potassium, and protein, you also may benefit by drinking them before exercise.
- In most cases, sports drinks are only beneficial before or during exercise if you are involved in vigorous activity lasting 90 minutes or longer.
Calculate your fluid loss during exercise.To avoid becoming dehydrated during exercise, you must actively replace the fluid you lose through your sweat. This amount will vary among people, and depending on the conditions and environment in which you're engaging in physical activity.
- The easiest way to determine the total amount of fluid you are losing during exercise is to weigh yourself immediately before and then immediately after exercise.
- Every pound of weight you've lost equates to approximately a pint of water. Keep in mind it's not unusual to lose as much as 5 pounds of fluid during intense exercise, especially if you are engaging in a vigorous activity that takes place outside in warmer months.
Eat foods that contain a high percentage of water.Drinking water isn't the only way to stay hydrated. Foods with a high water percentage can be a good alternative to drinking water on its own, especially if you don't like the taste of water.
- Both watermelon (as the name suggests) and celery are more than 90 percent water, as well as cucumbers and strawberries. While celery isn't necessarily packed with nutrients, it is high in fiber and several other energy-sustaining nutrients such as potassium.
- You also can get water from other drinks, such as coconut water or skim milk.
Limiting Caffeine Intake
Learn the signs of caffeine intoxication.The amount of caffeine you can safely consume depends on a lot of factors, including how hydrated you are; however, even as little as 500 milligrams of caffeine can potentially cause an overdose.
- Symptoms of caffeine intoxication include feelings of restlessness, nervousness, or agitation. You also may have gastrointestinal problems, twitching, or heart palpitations. At least five overdose symptoms must be present for an official diagnosis of caffeine intoxication.
- Even if you haven't reached overdose levels, you should stop eating or drinking anything caffeinated for the day if you have trouble breathing, get dizzy, feel "wired" or twitchy, or if your heartbeat is rapid or irregular.
- Keep in mind that caffeine can stay in your system for four to six hours after consumption.
Avoid energy drinks.Energy drinks contain massive amounts of caffeine, and also include other sugars and preservatives that can wreak havoc on your body and ultimately cause you to fatigue more quickly, as well as have difficulty recovering after an athletic event.
- For example, a 10-hour energy shot contains 422 milligrams of caffeine. To put this in perspective, about 360 milligrams of caffeine is considered a safe amount for a healthy adult to consume in one day.
- Energy drinks also include other substances that are supposed to enhance your energy. However, there is little valid scientific evidence to back up the energy-enhancing claims of these substances.
Measure the amount of caffeine you consume.To avoid caffeine overdose as an athlete, you must monitor your caffeine intake closely and be aware of the caffeine content in foods and drinks you regularly consume on a daily basis.
- A 16-ounce cup of coffee (the size of a grande at most popular coffee chains) has about 360 milligrams of coffee. This amount is considered safe for most adults to consume.
- While coffee itself provides many health benefits, those benefits only apply to up to 500 milligrams of caffeine – about five cups of coffee at home. Any more than that, and the risks of caffeine overdose negate any benefit derived from the coffee.
- Keep a food and drink diary and write down everything you consume that has caffeine in it. Then you can estimate the amount of caffeine you're consuming each day.
- Check the nutrition labels of foods or drinks you consume that have caffeine to find out how much caffeine is in each serving. Remember that some packages may contain more than one individual serving.
Eliminate caffeine several hours before and after you exercise.If you want the performance-enhancing effects of caffeine without risking caffeine overdose, it's generally best to consume your last caffeinated beverage no more than three or four hours before an athletic event.
- The caffeine in your bloodstream typically will already have peaked, but you will still see some performance enhancement because of your consumption.
- If you've never done intense physical activity after ingesting caffeine, you may want to experiment before attempting to use it for performance enhancement. Pay attention to how your body reacts and adjust accordingly if you find yourself becoming jittery or unable to focus.
Abstain from caffeine several days before a major event.This will allow your tolerance to decrease, ensuring you get the maximum benefit from caffeine on the day of the event. Be aware of signs of caffeine withdrawal, however, if you normally drink large amounts of caffeine.
Finding Healthier Sources of Energy
Eat every two to three hours.You'll have more energy, and store less of your food as fat, if you eat small meals several times a day rather than only eating three large meals. If you can't fit multiple meals into your schedule, eat smaller portions than normal at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and have healthy snacks throughout the day.
- Eating on a regular basis keeps your blood sugar levels more stable, so you have a more steady energy supply throughout the day as well as during intense exercise.
- If your body is getting enough energy from food sources, you won't need to rely on as much caffeine to give you a quick burst of energy, which can help you avoid caffeine overdose.
- If you have trouble remembering to eat more often, or at appropriate times, consider setting a reminder on your phone or computer desktop calendar to send you a notification when it's time to eat something.
Include carbohydrate and fiber sources at breakfast.Foods that are high in sugar and fat, such as breakfast pastries, can cause you to crash later on in the afternoon. Have a filling breakfast such as oatmeal or an omelette with plenty of fruits or vegetables.
- Commercial cereals also can provide plenty of nutrition, but read the labels carefully and make sure you're choosing something without added sugar.
- A fruit and vegetable smoothie or a protein bar may be a good choice if you don't have a lot of time in the morning to cook up a more substantial breakfast.
Carb up before endurance events.Slow-burning starches such as those found in potatoes, bread, and pasta will give you a steady source of energy for a longer period of time. If you need to exert intense effort for several hours, having a carbohydrate snack an hour or so before the event will keep you from hitting a wall before the end.
- Choose your carb sources carefully, and avoid refined carbs such as those in white bread and white pasta. Instead, look for whole-grain breads and pastas, or brown rice.
- If you're on a gluten-free diet, look to foods such as quinoa, corn, and wild or brown rice to get the healthy carbs you need for energy.
Avoid sugar.While sugar may give you a quick burst of energy, it fades quickly and can leave you even more run-down and fatigued than you were before. While eliminating sugar entirely from your diet may be impossible, you can reduce or eliminate many sweets that have added sugar.
- When you first start decreasing sugar, you may experience a drop in energy, especially if you previously consumed large amounts of sugar. However, over time this should even out.
- Many energy drinks contain significant amounts of sugar in addition to caffeine. The sugar in these energy drinks may counter the benefits you get from the caffeine, and make it more difficult for your body to recover after intense exercise.
Pack in protein at every meal.Protein is essential to build and strengthen muscles. Most sources of protein also are good sources of iron, which is essential to maintain your overall metabolic rate.
- Typical sources of protein are lean meats such as chicken and turkey. You also can get protein in a shake made with whey powder, or in a snack of almonds and yogurt.
- If you don't eat meat, eat plenty of soy-based foods and leafy dark green vegetables, such as spinach, for protein and iron.
- Some athletes think that coffee will not give the same effect and benefit as pure caffeine. But coffee is just as helpful as taking caffeine in the form of powder or pills. The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can vary, depending on how it’s prepared.
- The International Olympic Committee and the NCAA list caffeine as a restricted drug. Urinary levels up to 12mg/liter are acceptable, and about 8 cups of coffee would be required to exceed that level. Levels above this are usually achieved by a deliberate attempt by the athlete.
Video: Is Coffee Bad for You?
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