No sale: NCAA standards stymie energy drink campaign (2023)

A highly caffeinated energy drink brand called “Xyience” recently launched an ambitious new marketing campaign in college sports media, including commercials on the Pac-12 Networks, the Big Ten Network and ESPN.

No sale: NCAA standards stymie energy drink campaign (1)

On Sept. 8, Xyience also announced it would be the headline sponsor of an exclusive interview show with the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee.

But the scope of that marketing campaign suddenly changed last week after questions from USA TODAY Sports about how such a drink squared with NCAA rules. Within two days, theinterview show sponsorship was dropped. An online news release promoting the marketing campaign was erased from PR Newswire. And the Pac-12 Networks said it no longer wouldrun commercials for the product, which could cause a failed NCAA drug test if consumed in large enough quantities.

“The Pac-12 Networks has specific advertising guidelines that generally align with the NCAA,” Pac-12 Networks spokesman Wes Mallettesaid in a statement. “We can confirm advertising for this product did air on two of our regional networks earlier this year. We will not run these ads going forward.”

Caffeine-stoked energy drinks have become commonplace in convenience stores and the hands of young adults on college campuses in recent years, with an advertising effort to match. But advertising for the products can cause drink companies and broadcasters to bump up against NCAA standards designed to promote a culture of good health, standards considered by some to be overprotective and out of step with the mainstream.

Xyience became the latest product to test the limits. Itsline of fruit-flavored drinks contains ingredients that are considered impermissible or banned by the NCAA, even though they’re not illegal or unusual among dietary supplements. And though no NCAA rules were violated with the marketing campaign,the governing body's advertising guidelines also say that “most energy or stimulant drinks” are not permitted to be associated with NCAA events such as the Final Four but not including regular season football or most bowl games.

Those same guidelines place restrictions on beer advertising and companies associated with sports wagering, such as daily fantasy sports.Seven years ago, the NCAA killed a proposal to let 5-Hour Energy become title sponsor of the International Bowl in Toronto, leading that bowl to go out of business, said Don Loding, the game’s former executive director.

5-Hour Energy and other energy drink brands with similar ingredients have advertised during regular-season college games. They also remain popular among college students, some of whom use them to get through their academic workload. But athletes risk flunking a drug test if they have too much.

“It’s a bizarre relationship,” said Loding.

The marketing campaign

Xyience drinks contain caffeine and guarana, which the NCAA lists as banned stimulants at high doses. The drinks also contain ginseng, L-carnitine and taurine — substances that are considered impermissible by the NCAA, meaning that schools are not allowed to provide them to athletes.

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Though such ingredients are commonplace among popular energy drinks, the NCAA has health and performance reasons for restricting their use.

Despite that, Xyience gained anadvertising foothold tied to the biggest events in college football. Previously known as the official energy drink of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the brand declared bankruptcy in 2008 and was sold in 2014 to Big Red, a soda company in Austin, Texas.

Under new ownership, Xyience wanted to change its image.

“We wanted to shift to a platform that is more broadly appealing than mixed martial arts,” said Thomas Oh, senior vice president for Big Red, Xyience’s owner.

ESPN reporter Samantha Ponder was hired as a spokeswoman for Xyience last year and appeared in Xyience commercials.

Xyience aired ads more than 230 times this year through Sept. 12 on channelssuch as thePac-12 Networks, Big Ten Network, ESPN and ABC. Nearly two-thirds of those ads airing on the Pac-12 Networks, according to, which measures national TV advertising. Xyience spent an estimated $912,000 to air that many times, according to

No sale: NCAA standards stymie energy drink campaign (2)

On Sept. 8, the company issued a press release announcing an extended marketing campaign with Campus Insiders, the digital arm of the College Football Playoff and an online broadcast partner of several Football Bowl Subdivision conferences.

The marketing campaign included the "XYIENCE Digital-exclusive Interview with College Football Playoff Committee Chairman Kirby Hocutt,” starting Nov. 1 on Facebook. It also included a weekly football rankings show that showed the CFP logo next to the words “powered by Xyience energy drink.”

It was a smart marketing play — except for one factor. No matter how readily available energy drinks have become in grocery stores and gas stations, the NCAA still considers them bad for college athletes.

After an inquiry about the matter from USA TODAY Sports, the College Football Playoff told Campus Insiders to dissociate the CFP from Xyience. Gina Lehe, the CFP’s senior director of communications and brand management, said the CFP follows NCAA advertising guidelines and wasn’t aware that Campus Insiders had linked the CFP and Xyience in a sponsorship.

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The interview show with Hocutt “is not something we can have sponsored in general and with that drink in particular,” Lehe said.

NCAA values

Mary Wilfert, associate director of the NCAA’s Sport Science Institute, gave an online presentation last week to athletic trainers and athletic department staff. One of the topics was energy drinks.

“The energy drink buzz is a false energy,” read one of the slides presented by Wilfert. “So-called energy drinks are essentially caffeine and stimulant delivery systems.”

It warned that too many of such drinks could contribute to gastric upset, sleep disturbances, heart palpitations and performance detractions. Instead, the NCAA wants to encourage athletes to eat “real food” and avoid having them consume unregulated supplements whose marketed benefits are questionable.

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The NCAA considers caffeine to be performance-enhancing and a health risk at high levels but allows for average dietary intake such as from coffee or cola. The NCAA drug-tests for it, and a urinary caffeine concentration exceeding 15 micrograms per milliliter would result in a positive test, according to the NCAA.

That corresponds with ingesting 500 milligrams of caffeine within two to three hours of competition, according to the NCAA, which is about three 16-ounce cans of Xyience (176 mg per can) and the equivalent of six to eight cups of brewed coffee.

This approach differs from World Anti-Doping Agency’s, which stopped restricting caffeine use in 2004, in part because of caffeine’s widespread social acceptance and because of its questionable benefits at high levels.

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Among other energy drink ingredients, Guarana, a plant, also contains caffeine. Taurine and L-carnitine are amino acids, which have been consideredpotentially performance-enhancing by the NCAA. Such amino acid products are impermissible for NCAA schools to distribute to athletes, but athletes are not drug-tested for them or banned from ingesting them.

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Technically, that means NCAA athletes still can buy Xyience, Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy on their own and not get in trouble unless they drink too much of them, causing them to flunk a drug test because of caffeine.

“Three cans would be a lot,” Oh said, suggesting normal consumption of Xyience wouldn’t cause a flunked drug test.

Even so, NCAA advertising guidelines reflect NCAA rules and values promoting the health of its athletes. Such guidelines also limit beer ads to 60 seconds per hour during NCAA championship programming. Last year, the NCAA also barred daily fantasy sports companies from advertising during its championships.

The loophole

Energy drink and nutritional supplement companies still want to market to college sports fans and have found ways to do so.

AdvoCare, which makes products with similar ingredients, is allowed to title-sponsor the Texas Bowl because it’s called the “AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl.” The V100 is a vitamin chew that contains no ingredients that conflict with the NCAA rules.

Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy have many of the same or similar ingredients as Xyience and have advertised during regular season college games, thanks largely to a loophole of sorts that probably isn’t meaningful to the average viewer.

NCAA advertising guidelines apply to NCAA-owned events such as the men’s and women’s basketball Final Fours and other championships. They do not directly apply to regular-season games or even the College Football Playoff, both of which are controlled by NCAA-member conferences or NCAA-member schools, but not NCAA headquarters.

Loding,who ran the defunct International Bowl, said 5-Hour Energy commercials were even allowed to run during his bowl game even though the NCAA forbid the drink to be the game’s title sponsor.

“There’s a fine line there, and certainly to the public’s impression, it makes no sense whatsoever,” Loding said.

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Though the FBS postseason is not an NCAA-run event, college football bowl games do require NCAA certification to exist.

The NCAA “has adopted certain policies regarding title, presenting, and in-venue sponsors of postseason football bowl games that receive NCAA certification,” NCAA spokesman Christopher Radford said in an e-mail. “However, advertising and sponsorship arrangements entered into by universities and conferences outside those contexts (e.g., regular season, conference championships, etc.) are not subject to NCAA review or approval.”

Technically, that means the College Football Playoff, conferences and their broadcast partners don’t have to honor NCAA advertising guidelines. But if they don’t, they’d essentially be saying they have different values than the NCAA.

“It’s easier for us to be in step with what limits have been established (by the NCAA),” Lehe said. “And our standards for their championship games fall on similar lines to what we would hope to practice with our game as well.”

ESPN and Ponder declined comment through a public-relations staffer. Campus Insiders and the Big Ten Network didn’t return messages seeking comment.

The NCAA’s position is still a little baffling to Oh, the marketing executive pushing Xyience. Since Red Bull entered the U.S. market in 1997, energy drinks have become popular among American consumers looking for an extra boost. Sales of energy drinks and shots are forecast to reach $17.3 billion in 2020, up from $11.2 billion in the USA in 2014 and $8.1 billion in 2010, according to market research firm Mintel.

“I know Red Bull advertises during college football, just like we did last year,” Oh said. “We’ve never talked to the NCAA directly. We’ve never looked into trying to sponsors an NCAA-type of event or championship. We’re just trying to shift our platform to college sports. We’re just an advertiser on those networks you mentioned, ESPN included.”

Follow sports reporter Brent Schrotenboer on Twitter @Schrotenboer. E-mail:



What is the NCAA rule on energy drinks? ›

The NCAA allows athletes to drink caffeine, they just have a limit on how much can be consumed. The NCAA allows for 15 micrograms per milliliter of caffeine concentration.

Did NCAA ban energy drinks? ›

In 2003, the NCAA instituted a list of banned-drug classes, including stimulants, anabolic agents and street drugs that are prohibited for use by NCAA athletes. Two common ingredients in energy drinks, taurine and guarana, were banned. Caffeine is considered a restricted substance and not a banned substance.

Can college athletes drink energy drinks? ›

This knowledge is not new and in 2003, the NCAA established a list of drug classes for their student athletes, which included stimulants. They declared that athletes are not allowed to have a caffeine concentration larger than 15 micrograms per milliliter in their body.

What sports drinks are banned from the NCAA? ›

The NCAA decided to ban the popular energy drink Celsius after conducting a study which revealed that drinking one bottle is equal to having up to five cups of coffee. Their study proved that Celsius drinks have illegal banned stimulants ginseng, guarana, L-carnitine and taurine.

Can you fail an NCAA drug test for caffeine? ›

POTENTIAL RISKS • Caffeine is a banned substance by the NCAA. A urinary caffeine concentration exceeding 15 micrograms per milliliter (corresponding to ingesting about 500 milligrams, the equivalent of six to eight cups of brewed coffee, two to three hours before competition) results in a positive drug test.

Can NCAA athletes drink caffeine? ›

It is now widely considered an “ergogenic aid”, or something that enhances performance. The NCAA is the only organization that restricts the amount of caffeine in an athlete's system by limiting urine concentrations to 15 ug/mL, which equates to ~500mg caffeine or ~6 to 8 cups of coffee 2 to 3 hours before an event.

What are the NCAA guidelines for caffeine? ›

Calculating Caffeine Amounts

The acceptable caffeine limit for NCAA athletes is 15 micrograms per milliliter of urine. The IOC allows its athletes up to 12 micrograms per milliliter of urine before the substance is considered illegal.

Why is taurine banned? ›

Taurine is an amino acid that can lead to a positive drug test. Many of the most common brands also have a high amount sugar, which contributes to the that burst of energy. While caffeine naturally occurs in coffee, it is considered a performance enhancer and is banned by organizations such as the NCAA.

Why can't athletes drink energy drinks? ›

While caffeine does help to energize the body temporarily, it does not replenish the nutrients that are lost during prolonged physical activity. In fact, caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it actually depletes water from the body which can lead to dehydration during exercise.

Is bucked up illegal in NCAA? ›

Another notable ingredient is synephrine, which is included in DAS Labs most powerful pre-workout supplement Bucked Up WOKE AF. This is a banned substance by WADA as well as the NCAA, meaning this formula should be avoided by athletes who compete under these organizations.

Why is Celsius banned by NCAA? ›

Celsius drinks have the illegal banned stimulants of ginseng, guarana, L-carnitine and taurine. These ingredients are not only considered banned by the NCAA but also the National Olympic committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency.”

What energy drinks can athletes drink? ›

3 Energy Drinks for Athletes
  • Celsius. Currently one of the more popular energy drinks on the market – and for a good reason! ...
  • C4 Smart Energy. This drink also has 200 mg of caffeine, all powered by tea leaves for a sustainable caffeine boost. ...
  • Runa – Clean Energy Drink.
Jan 10, 2022

What is the official drink of the NCAA? ›

WHITESTONE, NY. – BODYARMOR, the fastest-growing sports drink in the category, today announced that the brand will become the Official Sports Drink of NCAA championships, including March Madness, beginning in 2019. The new partnership will make BODYARMOR the Official Sports Drink of the NCAA.

Is creatine still banned by the NCAA? ›

Creatine is not a banned substance by the NCAA and there is no specific test to determine if an athlete is taking creatine. However, some creatine supplements have tested positive because they may contain other identifiable substances prohibited by the NCAA.

What pops up on NCAA drug test? ›

The NCAA tests for steroids, peptide hormones and masking agents year-round and also tests for stimulants and recreational drugs during championships. Member schools also may test for these substances as part of their athletics department drug-deterrence programs.

Why did NCAA ban caffeine? ›

In 1984, caffeine consumption over 12 micrograms/milliliter was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which creates substance use regulations for sports organizations worldwide, according to the National Library of Medicine. WADA regulated caffeine because of its perceived performance-enhancing effects.

Does creatine show up on NCAA drug test? ›

Creatine is generally considered safe when taken at recommended doses, but it is not approved by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for use by student-athletes. According to the NCAA's banned substance list, creatine is not banned, but it is classified as a "non-certified supplement."

Can NCAA athletes drink muscle milk? ›

The NCAA does not ban Muscle Milk for use by student-athletes,” Wilfert said. “The original Muscle Milk formula did list a banned ingredient on its label (IGF-1), but the product no longer lists any banned ingredients.” Club track & field runner Gebran Mansour said he would frown upon a teammate using the supplement.

What is the highest legal amount of caffeine? ›

For healthy adults, the FDA has cited 400 milligrams a day—that's about four or five cups of coffee—as an amount not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects.

Is there a legal limit for caffeine content? ›

In the United States there is a limit of 65mg of caffeine per 12 liquid ounce in beverages.

How much caffeine is banned in sport? ›

Is Caffeine Prohibited in Sport? No, caffeine is permitted in sports governed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Does the amount of caffeine need to be listed? ›

Caffeine labeling

Carbonated sodas and other conventional foods and beverages containing added caffeine must list caffeine as an ingredient, but need not indicate the quantity of caffeine. Foods and beverages containing naturally occurring caffeine need not indicate that the food contains caffeine.

How do you test positive for caffeine? ›

If a drug test shows that your urine has a caffeine concentration higher than 15 micrograms per milliliter, that drug test will result positive. In order for you to reach these levels, you would need to ingest 500 milligrams about two or three hours before the drug test.

Does Starbucks use taurine? ›

Brewed Starbucks Coffee (Water, Coffee), Reduced-Fat Milk, Skim Milk, Sugar, Natural Flavors, Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Taurine, Cellulose Gel, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Inositol, Sodium Ascorbate, Cellulose Gum, Guarana (Paullinia Cupana) Seed Extract, Niacinamide, Sucralose, Carrageenan, Tricalcium Phosphate, ...

Is taurine as bad as caffeine? ›

Taurine vs Caffeine: Which Should You Choose? If your primary goal is to feel more energized, it appears that you're better off choosing caffeine instead of taurine. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system more directly to reduce fatigue and increase alertness. Taurine may help to reduce muscle damage and fatigue.

What does taurine do to your brain? ›

Taurine's role in brain development and function

Taurine supports proliferation of neural progenitor cells and synapse formation in brain regions required for long-term memory (Shivaraj et al., 2012).

What is the best energy drink for athletes? ›

Top 10 energy drinks for a perfect training session & recovery
  • Cipla Prolyte Energy Drinks.
  • Health Oxide ENERGY BOOST Extra Power Energy Drink.
  • Gatorade Sports Drink.
  • Herbalife Afresh Energy Drink Mix: Best Energy Drink.
  • XLR8 Isotonic Re-Hydration Instant Formula: Energy Drink.
  • Glucon-D Instant Energy Health Drink.

Do pro athletes really drink Redbull? ›

Professional athletes that are sponsored by Red Bull probably do use the product. Energy drinks are not inherently bad: we do need energy and caffeine does improve endurance. They only become a problem when consumed in excess. No other ingredients in Red Bull pose a problem for our health.

Why do pro athletes not drink Gatorade? ›

The problem with Gatorade is sugar content. Even the sugar-free versions still contain up to 40 calories per serving. That's why so many top athletes — despite the endorsement deals — avoid Gatorade in favor of specially-formulated alternatives: No one knows what Golden State's Klay Thompson drinks in the locker room.

Is C4 banned in NCAA? ›

The drink that the students bought, a Creatine Nitrate product called C4 Extreme manufactured by the pro workout supplement company Cellucor, unknowingly contained Synephrine, a substance that is considered "performance enhancing" and is banned by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Is L Theanine banned by NCAA? ›

The NCAA lists six problematic flavors: Power-C, Energy, B-Relaxed, Rescue, Vital-T and Balance. According to NCAA, the flavors each have one of the following impermissible or banned substances: taurine, caffeine, guarana seed extract, L-theanine, green tea extract, ecgc, Rooibos tea extract or glucosamine.

Why did the military ban Bucked Up? ›

see less Did you know that the supplement brand Bucked Up may cause or contribute to a positive urinalysis result? This product may contain methandienone, an anabolic steroid, and IGF-1, which are prohibited substances by DoD.

Can you drink Celsius as a d1 athlete? ›

Has any NCAA athlete ever been declared ineligible to compete due to consuming CELSIUS? No. Consuming CELSIUS has never been reported as the cause of any NCAA athlete's ineligibility to compete at the collegiate level.

Is vitamin C banned by NCAA? ›

NCAA Nutritional/Dietary Supplements Warning:

There are no NCAA approved supplement products. Dietary supplements, including vitamins and minerals, are not well regulated and may cause a positive drug test result.

Why is Celsius not FDA approved? ›

Guarana has not been FDA approved. There could be a possible higher intake of caffeine than we know is in the drink. Drinking this could also cause positive drug tests due to the amino acids found in the drink, this is because these amino acids also mimic those of certain drugs.

Is it OK for athletes to drink Gatorade? ›

Sports drinks, like Gatorade, can help ward off dehydration and muscle cramps, because they help replenish both fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat. Encourage sports drinks when workouts last an hour or longer, especially for heavy sweaters. Sports chews or gels can add an extra “energy boost” during intense activity.

What should athletes not drink? ›

Avoid caffeine-fortified drinks, and limit energy drinks, which may contain but not list natural sources of caffeine. For comparison, nutritionists recommend consuming no more than 300 milligrams per day, which would be the equivalent of about seven and a half cola drinks.

What do athletes drink the most? ›

People who play sports as a job drink a lot of electrolyte-rich beverages, alkaline water, and protein drinks. These beverages help them to replenish salt levels in the body, provide large amounts of protein for quick muscle building, and give all the necessary nutrients for normal body functioning.

Is there a regulation on energy drinks? ›

Energy drinks manufactured or distributed by American Beverage Association (ABA) member companies are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act).”

Can an athlete drink a caffeinated beverage before a competition? ›

The researchers recommended athletes abstain from caffeine for no less than seven days before its use in competition because individuals react differently to caffeine. It is recommended athletes try caffeine while training before using it in competition.

What is the limit for energy drinks? ›

The Bottom Line

If you choose to drink energy drinks, limit your intake to 16 ounces (473 ml) per day and stay away from “energy shots.” Additionally, try to reduce your intake of other caffeinated beverages to avoid the harmful effects of too much caffeine.

Are professional athletes allowed to drink energy drinks? ›

Even though caffeine itself is not prohibited, energy drinks are not recommended for any athletes and can be especially harmful for junior athletes. Most adults can safely consume 400mg per day of caffeine, but the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recognize ANY safe level of caffeine for youth or adolescents.

What are the labeling requirements for energy drinks? ›

Currently, the FDA requires that energy drink labels include three components: a list of ingredients, a declaration of allergens (if applicable) and the Nutrition Facts panel. However, you may wish to include additional information to avoid liability.

Why does the FDA not regulate energy drinks? ›

Sports drinks are categorized as “food” by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and strict laws apply to their labeling. Energy drinks are considered “dietary supplements” which are not required to have FDA approval before production or sale.

Are energy drinks required to list caffeine content? ›

Caffeine is required to be listed in the ingredients list on food and beverage product labels, and some manufacturers also choose to list the quantity of caffeine on product labels as well. Did You Know?

What is the NCAA limit on caffeine? ›

Calculating Caffeine Amounts

The acceptable caffeine limit for NCAA athletes is 15 micrograms per milliliter of urine. The IOC allows its athletes up to 12 micrograms per milliliter of urine before the substance is considered illegal.

What 4 types of drinks should an athlete avoid? ›

Beverages containing caffeine, alcohol, and carbonation are not to be used because of the high risk of dehydration associated with excess urine production, or decreased voluntary fluid intake. Drink according to a schedule based on individual fluid needs. Drink before, during and after practices and games.

Can you drink energy drinks before a sports game? ›

Specifically, the NFHS SMAC strongly recommends that: Water and appropriate sports drinks should be used for rehydration. Energy drinks should not be used for hydration prior to, during, or after physical activity.

Is it ask 25 for energy drinks? ›

To prevent sales of ENERGY DRINKS to UNDER 16s, before serving these products the responsible member of staff must ask all customers who DO NOT CLEARLY appear to be over the age of 25 for a suitable means of identification bearing their name, date of birth and a holographic mark.

Does the FDA limit caffeine in energy drinks? ›

FDA does not consider a warning label on these products to be sufficient to make the products safe. Although FDA caffeine regulations don't specify a limit for caffeine in food, FDA has penalized companies for distributing products that contain a potentially dangerous amount of caffeine.

Can I drink 1 energy drink a day? ›

As for most adults, up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day appears to be safe, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Healthy adults who choose to drink energy drinks should not exceed one can per day,” the Mayo Clinic's Zeratsky said.

Why is caffeine not banned in sports? ›

Because performance-enhancing doses of the stimulant were found to be almost indistinguishable from normal consumption, the WADA pulled the caffeine restrictions to prevent penalizing athletes unfairly, reports the Washington Post.


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