Warning label

The label on the back of the C4 Extreme package states, "Not intended for use by persons under age 18."

Ten Menomonie High School (MHS) multi-sport athletes discovered that a pre-workout energy drink they consumed this week will cost them the first three games of the WIAA football season.

The drink, called Cellucor C4 Extreme, contains a banned substance called Synephrine HCL, a potent adrenergic stimulator. According to bodybuilding.com, Synephrine HCL, “augments energy levels and ATP synthesis” and is structurally similar to Ephedra. It goes on to say, “The compound enhances adrenaline stimulation and promotes weight loss by amplifying fat burning, metabolism, and thermogenesis.”

MHS Activities Director Bart Boettcher said while Synephrine HCL is not specifically listed as a banned substance under the school’s code, it is listed by the WIAA and falls under the category of performance enhancing drugs and carries the same punishments as alcohol or tobacco consumption.

“It’s the same exact punishment,” said Boettcher, who noted that due to an honor clause (for turning themselves in) the punishment was reduced from a 50 percent ban to three games.

“I had a tip from the WIAA to investigate,” said Boettcher. “I went right down to the weight room and met with (Head Football) Coach (Joe) LaBuda, and we asked, and they said ‘Yeah’ and even showed us. Our kids didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. … They said they were told that this was the best stuff by a GNC employee.”

LaBuda said after the athletes used the product, they bragged about it on Twitter and someone reported it to the WIAA. He added that not only is Synephrine banned by the WIAA, but also by the NCAA.

“They were unaware that this substance was on the WIAA banned substance list, but the product states on the label not to be consumed by anyone under the age of 18,” said LaBuda. “None of these students were 18.”

“I feel for them,” Boettcher said, but added, “When it happens, we’re going to enforce the code. There’s no hiding or getting around it.”

All 10 players are junior and seniors on the football team. Since football will be the first athletic season after receiving the suspension, they will not permitted to play against Merrill, Chippewa Falls or Eau Claire Memorial.

While the situation is an unfortunate one for all involved, Boettcher said, “The health and safety of the athletes is the most important thing in the world. … Ignorance is not an excuse.”

WIAA’s response

Wade Labecki, deputy director of the WIAA, said, “Many of the products available in your local store have a variety of ingredients and some of the ingredients are stimulants. Supplement ingredient lists can be very difficult to decipher as problematic ingredients can have multiple name variations. There are common names (synonyms) that are listed in dietary supplements for the same stimulant.  It’s very possible that athletes are not aware of what’s actually in the product they’re taking and athletes should be careful with any product.”

Labecki added the ban on performance enhancers is not just due to “competitive advantages”, but for the “overall health of young, developing, adolescent children. … The ingredient in the product can cause kidney damage. A concern with this product is the withdrawal affect once a user has stopped taking the product.”

The withdrawal symptoms of DMAA (Synephrine) include mood changes, depression and anger.

“Our concern is neither the athletes, their parents, or school personnel would be aware of the symptoms to watch for,” said Labecki.

He added that risks associated with the drug include vasoconstriction (blood vessel narrowing), elevated heart rate, increased risk of stroke, high blood pressure, aneurysm, lethal exhaustion, and even impotence. Those risks escalate if the drug is combined with other stimulants like caffeine, and then again increase when the body is under extreme load associated with exercise or competitive sport – and again if exposed to heat or dehydration.

On the plus side

LaBuda said the big positive that came out of the incident is that they were able to cut off the usage right away and “the students did not have any prolonged use of this product.”

“When we were first made aware of this and the students were questioned, they all stepped forward and were accountable for their actions,” said LaBuda. “It’s a lot harder to be a kid today than when we grew up. ... (It’s) also (a) tough era to be a parent. … Students need to be careful where they get their source of information of what is safe and what is not, and also how they use the internet.”

Menomonie District Administrator Chris Stratton commended both Boettcher and LaBuda for how they handled the investigation.

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