Wake up… mixing caffeine and sleeping pills is dangerous for England players!
22:28 GMT, 18 October 2012
After the pills but no thrills in
Poland, Roy Hodgson's England team arrived home to discover the subject
of mild stimulants and sedatives in sport might be a little more
complicated than they thought.
It was Glen Johnson who said the
players had taken caffeine tablets to prepare for Tuesday's game, which
was then postponed because of rain and delayed by 20 hours.
Buzzing: Johnson couldn't sleep after taking caffeine tablets
'A lot of the lads take Pro Plus tablets before the game and then the game is off and no-one can sleep,' Johnson told BBC 5 Live after the 1-1 draw on Wednesday.
At about the same time, from a different
source, it was becoming clear that some players had taken mild sleeping
pills to ease the problem and manager Hodgson was confessing his team
had not appeared quite as 'sharp and lively' during the World Cup
qualifier on Wednesday as they had on previous days.
ROBERTO MARTINEZ (Wigan)
I'm not a big lover of giving anything to try to get an extra one per cent out of the players in case they end up paying for it down the line. Their health is paramount and we don't like to give players artificial things. But professional footballers need eight hours' uninterrupted sleep.
No-one tried to use it as an excuse for the result but, as they explained the unusual chain of events, starting with the downpour in Warsaw and an open roof at a 400million stadium, they opened a window on a pill culture which some fear is harming sport.
Rio Ferdinand and Phil Neville were quickly on to Twitter to ask what the fuss was about.
It's been going on for years, they said. Well, yes. Perhaps it has. But should it have been Is it fair Is it healthy Is it under control
Elements of the anti-doping lobby believe caffeine, a legal substance, can boost performance like ephedrine when taken in significant quantities.
Ephedrine is banned and is the drug for which Diego Maradona tested positive in the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
Up for it: Roy Hodgson made sure his players were wide awake
Sleeping pills, on the other hand, could harm performances, and players could be damaging their bodies if they take them in a cycle with stimulants like caffeine. Elite athletes will always search for ways to gain an advantage, ideally a legal one, be it a lighter pair of boots or a splodge of Vaseline on the shirt.
BRENDAN RODGERS (Liverpool)
We regulate the players on what they take. The medical staff have drawn up criteria – the players have to follow it to the letter. What might once have been innocent may now contain something that can get a player banned. They are well schooled. Some will take sleeping tablets, because sleep is important. You want to rest well.
What goes into the body has become a
vital element of this – from the Premier League fondness for pasta and
banoffee pie ahead of a game to Jaffa Cakes, pizza and wine gums after.
Arsene Wenger arrived at Arsenal with great faith in the powers of steamed broccoli, among other things. Energy drinks have become a lucrative market. England teams use Lucozade and many sprinters, including Usain Bolt, drink Red Bull before they run.
Supplements and vitamins are used in football as a matter of routine, be they caffeine pills, creatine milkshakes, energy bars or glucose sachets.
Murkier stories exist like Tony Cascarino's memories of unidentified pre-match jabs during his days at Marseille.
What is Pro Plus
The tablets provide a fast-acting
caffeine boost that makes you feel more awake, alert and aids
concentration. Two tablets contain 100mg of caffeine – the equivalent of
a strong cup of coffee.
In the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, American cyclist Taylor Phinney called for sport to cleanse itself of all pills, including caffeine tablets and cortisone painkillers, which he claimed were a way of 'improving your mentality'.
Until 2004, caffeine appeared on the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list if used in certain quantities.
The equivalent of a dozen cups of coffee would raise caffeine in the body to suspicious levels and one of the typical caffeine tablets taken by a footballer has around a third of that.
'Caffeine is one of the few substances where the scientific literature unquestionably backs up the idea that it is a performance enhancer,' said Dr Neil Chester, a researcher into anti-doping at Liverpool John Moores University. 'It certainly seems to be a more effective performance enhancer than something like ephedrine, which is banned by WADA. There is, without doubt, a moral and ethical issue about caffeine's misuse in sport.
'It was only brought off the prohibited list in 2004, since then we've seen a significant increase in sports scientists and sports nutritionists recommending its use.
What else are they taking
Footballers consume a combination of
drinks, pills and potions to boost their performance and recovery. SAM
CUNNINGHAM gets the inside steer…
As well as Pro Plus, some players
consume drinks with a high caffeine content, such as Red Bull, to boost
their focus and alertness.
Players usually take this in the form
of injections but it can be taken in tablet form or nasal spray. It
boosts resistance to minor injuries, ailments and infections.
Increases the ability to reproduce
high intensity play in the later stages of games. It is an acid produced
in the body to replenish energy but can be taken in capsule form.
There are 12 amino acids produced
naturally in the body but they can be supplemented with tablets that
provide eight others that usually come from food. Amino acids
particularly help with muscle repair.
These are useful when players are doing weight training. They come in a powder form to make milkshakes.
Made by the likes of Lucozade, these
carbohydrate gels can be sucked from squeezy packets and produce energy
while exercising and improve recovery.
To give a sugar boost, jelly babies,
wine gums and fruit pastilles are provided in physio rooms while players
are being treated after matches.
Lucozade, Gatorade and Powerade are
frequently drunk during games and training to boost energy. In humid
conditions when cramping is more likely, Gatorade Lite is used to
provide a sodium boost, replacing the old salt tablets.
Footballers tend to opt for the same
supplements we all do to gain health benefits – only more seriously.
Indeed some – such as Kolo Toure – have even resorted to diet pills.
Favourite supplements include cod liver oil and glucosamine, both of
which are good for bone and joint cartilage. Garlic tablets and fish oil
are popular as they are believed to combat high cholesterol and help to
reduce inflammation throughout the body. Multivitamins are also common
place, often injected or taken as a powder or liquid.
Foreign players bring treatments from
all over the world when they join a new British club. It's the job of
staff to check they're legal and to check evidence that they actually
help – though if it has a placebo effect on performance they are usually
'Any athlete can use it, and anecdotal evidence suggests its misuse is particularly prevalent at elite level. The decision to remove it from the prohibited list, unfortunately, sent out the message that it is OK to use.
'WADA have not really helped, because they have not clearly explained why they removed it.'
Beyond this moral question are health concerns about young athletes wolfing down mild uppers and downers to cope with the stresses of elite sport.
Some players – and managers – like a sleeping pill on the eve of a big game to settle anxieties and soothe their active minds but this is not likely to boost the player's performance.
UK Athletics advise against sprinters taking any type of sleeping tablets in the 48 hours before competition but some footballers like to ease their nerves with a sleeping pill on the eve of a game.
'Sleeping pills can remain in the system for seven to 14 hours, depending on the type,' said sleep expert Professor Colin Espie of the University of Glasgow. 'Most cause residual day-time lethargy after waking because there are chemicals in your system and because you haven't had normal sleep.
'To feel at your best you need proper natural sleep in the right proportions. Artificial sleep will not give you the restorative aspects of sleep.
'If you can't sleep properly this leads to a fundamental insecurity. It takes the edge off performance and makes the athletes feel less in control.'
Other players might ask for sleeping pills to help them get over the adrenaline of the night match – which doesn't bother them too much until you run into a hitch like England did in Warsaw – or to help them cope with the rigours of travel.
Former Liverpool physio Mark Leather said: 'Some use one before a game, probably a mild or herbal, non-drowsy type rather than the strong, old-fashioned Mogadon tablets. 'Some take them when there's a lot of travel involved and normal sleep patterns are disturbed. It might become one or two a week on a regular basis.
'Clearly it's not something you want people to stay on for a long time. It becomes a dependency, rather than just one or two a week.
'Players have asked me for tablets to take home because they feel they need to sleep better, maybe they have a new baby and it's noisy or something. But you don't want them going to the next step, going to their own GP to prescribe them without the club's knowledge. It is a potential can of worms.'
Poor sleeping cycles will be worsened if sedatives are taken in conjunction with caffeine supplements and this may be detrimental in the long-term to how well the athlete feels.
'The solution is not to medicate up and down,' said Professor Espie. 'It's tragic to know we're doing this to our elite athletes.
'A natural solution is best. It's discipline really. You need a wind-down strategy to empty your mind. I would love the opportunity to spend an hour with these guys to explain the principles.'
Eamonn Salmon, an ex-physio and chief executive of the League Medical Association, backs England's medical team to be doing the right thing for the players.
'I know Gary Lewin and his team and they are one of the best in the world,' said Salmon. 'They will have planned everything meticulously.'
The way we were
For years, it was not uncommon for a bottle of brandy or whisky to be in a dressing room, either to settle nerves or to warm up players. In his autobiography My Story, former England striker Cyrille Regis says one was to hand in West Bromwich's dressing room during the early 1980s. But after the influential book Eat to Win by Dr Robert Haas was published later that decade, clubs began to look more closely at preparation. Vitamin supplements, including the likes of herbal aids such as ginseng, were taken pre-kick-off. Strong coffee was also in fashion for a spell before the effects of dehydration were understood. Then it was sweets, with jelly babies a favoured choice. Former European Cup winner Peter Withe ate a chocolate bar before matches. Indeed, several managers used to hand out 'yellow pills', simply vitamins for pets. During the 1990s, Gordon Strachan swore by the benefits of seaweed and bananas. The late Gary Speed left Everton over a row about eating fish and chips instead of pasta. But then Arsene Wenger brought with him an entirely new way of living…