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No more caffeine for high school racers

The NorCal High School Mountain Bike League has banned consumption of caffeine at its competitions for the 2008 racing season. In making the landmark decision, the League cited concerns about the health of its athletes, especially amid the surge of new caffeinated energy products coming onto the market in the 2000s.

The new rule is captured in the League's revised handbook, and according to a recent press release, "As an organization dedicated to positive youth development and the promotion of cycling as a sport, this [the deliberate use of caffeine] is a performance-enhancement-based mentality the League would like to nip in the bud."

The League expressed concern that the dependency-forming stimulant is being marketed - often toward teens and young adults - as if it were totally harmless and for its performance enhancing qualities. Over the past few years, the League has seen an increase in caffeine usage amongst its athletes; some even strategizing with timed consumption of caffeinated products on the final lap of the race.

The League cited a study by Dr. Richard Stein, director of preventative cardiology at New York's Beth Israel Medical Center and a representative for the American Heart Association. said, "What five years ago was considered outrageous doses of caffeine is now well within the range of expected doses. We will soon find out the effects of prolonged usage in high doses starting at an early age. In the past, that's always been a formula for poor health and mental outcomes." Research has not yet determined what are safe amounts of caffeine intake for young people.

"The conversation began when I was approached for the second time by 'Brand X'. 'Brand X' said themselves that youth, originally, were not in their marketing plan – but that 'Brand Y' (a leading coffee shop franchise) changed their minds," said Matt Fritzinger, League Founder and Director. "The marketing representative made it clear, they wanted 'product in hand.' I realized this is a lot like the cigarette industry was; they get the free samples out there, and then they can count on a percentage of life-long addicts. Though less harmful than cigarettes, the strategy is the same."

"Over the next couple years I spoke with many high school athletes and coaches. Some athletes admitted they were already 'addicted' to certain energy drinks, and I found that coaches were supportive of the ban," said Fritzinger. "At the 2007 coaches conference we brought up the idea and found that we had tremendous support, and since then other audiences have met the idea with standing ovations."

"There have been questions about enforcement. It's true that we do not have a test, but nor can we afford a test for steroids or EPO. However, we have a 3-to-1 ratio of dedicated adults working with the athletes and with good coaching and education kids usually make the right decisions. On the other hand, those who try to get a boost, might get penalized if we find the wrong products during our random pocket-checks."

Other banned substances include gurana root, taurine and creatine have also been banned.

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