Is Caffeine Banned By The NCAA?

When I walked into my school’s campus for the first time, I used to HATE coffee. Four years later, during the finals week of my senior year, I was probably spending on average $30 on Starbucks coffee per day. College will change you in several ways, and one of them will be by turning you into a lover of caffeinated products. After long and exhaustive practices, caffeine will give you the necessary energy to pull out an all-nighter writing a 15-page paper about the history of Japanese cinema. Trust me, coffee is a game-changer.

I remember one day I was talking to someone about the beauty behind caffeine, when I was surprised with the following response: “you need to watch out, I’ve heard that if you get drug tested after having 2 Starbucks coffees and a Mountain Dew, you’ll test positive for caffeine and be suspended by the NCAA.” I was mind-blown. It seemed weird to me that the NCAA would ban caffeine, but I ended up never doing the proper research on it. I figured now would be a good time to answer the question that has been in my mind for a long time –  Is caffeine actually banned by the NCAA? And if so, what are the consumption limits?

The answer is that caffeine is in fact a banned substance banned by the NCAA. 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.

So, it turns out that you actually need to be mindful of your caffeine consumption. Below you’ll how much of each product you would need to drink in order to test positive:


Pike Place Brewed Coffee

  • Tall: 155 mg
  • Grande: 235 mg
  • Venti: 310 mg
  • Trinta: 410mg

Blonde Roast

  • Tall: 180 mg
  • Grande: 270 mg
  • Venti: 360 mg
  • Trinta: 475mg

Dark Roast

  • Tall: 130 mg
  • Grande: 195 mg
  • Venti: 260 mg
  • Trinta: 340 mg

Caffè Latte

  • Tall: 75 mg
  • Grande: 75 mg
  • Venti: 150 mg
  • Trinta: 150 mg

Caffè Mocha

  • Tall: 90 mg
  • Grande: 95 mg
  • Venti: 180 mg
  • Trinta: 185 mg

Caramel Macchiato

  • Tall: 75 mg
  • Grande: 75 mg
  • Venti: 150 mg
  • Trinta: 150 mg

Cold Brew Coffee

  • Tall: 155 mg
  • Grande: 205 mg
  • Venti: 310 mg
  • Trinta: 360 mg

Reserve Nitro Cold Brew

  • Tall: 280 mg
  • Grande: 400 mg

Nitro Cold Brew

  • Tall: 215 mg
  • Grande: 280 mg

Iced Coffee

  • Tall: 120 mg
  • Grande: 165 mg
  • Venti: 235 mg
  • Trinta: 285 mg

Iced Clover Reserve

  • Tall: 280 mg
  • Grande: 380 mg
  • Venti: 470 mg

Classic Chai Tea Latte

  • Tall: 50 mg
  • Grande: 70 mg
  • Venti: 95 mg
  • Trinta: 120 mg

Starbucks Bottled Frappuccino

  • 13.7 oz bottle: 130mg

Starbucks Canned Doubleshot Espresso

  • 6.5 oz bottle: 110mg

Starbucks Doubleshot Coffee + Protein (Coffee Flavor)

  • 8 oz bottle: 110mg
Yerba Mate (Guayaki)

Cans (Lemon Elation, Enlighten Mint & Revel Berry)

  • 16 oz can: 150 mg

Guayaki Organic Energy Shots

  • 2 oz bottle: 140 mg

Bottled Terere Yerba Mate

  • 16 oz bottle: 140 mg
Other Products / Drinks

Green Tea

  • 8 oz: 35 mg

Home Brewed Coffee (on average)

  • 8 oz: 95 mg

Espresso Shot

  • 1 shot (1 – 1.75 oz): 63 mg
  • 2 shots (3 – 3.5 oz): 125 mg

Red Bull

  • 8.4 oz can: 80 mg

Mountain Dew

  • 20 oz bottle: 91 mg

Gu Energy Gel

  • 1 packet: 40 mg

Pepsi Zero Sugar

  • 20 oz bottle: 115 mg

Coca Cola

  • 20 oz bottle: 56 mg

5-Hour Energy

  • 2 oz bottle: 215 mg

5-Hour Energy – Extra Strength

  • 2 oz bottle: 242 mg

Monster Energy Drink

  • 16 oz bottle: 160 mg

Bang Energy Drink

  • 16 oz bottle: 300 mg


The NCAA conducts drug tests year round at schools, and usually more frequently during national championships. In addition to that, schools administer their own drug tests, and in most cases the penalties are the same as NCAA’s. This is what the NCAA has established in cases where an athlete fails a drug test:

“The penalty for a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug (PED) [caffeine falls under this category] is strict and automatic: student-athletes lose one full year of eligibility for the first offense (25 percent of their total eligibility) and are withheld from competition for 365 days from the date of the test. A second positive test for a PED results in the loss of all remaining eligibility.”

In addition, if a student-athlete fails to show up to a drug-test or refuses to go through the exam, he or she will be punished as if the test had resulted positive.

Maximizing Benefits

So now that you know how much coffee you shouldn’t have, it’s time to take a look at how much you should have. If caffeine intake is maintained at the appropriate levels, it can bring several benefits to the athlete: increase in energy, increase in fat burning levels, possibly decrease in risk of type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s, and it might also help in the fight against depression. So which amount will allow you to reap the most benefits out of coffee?

After doing some research, I found that you should probably stick to something between 200-300 mg of caffeine in slow days (no practice or easier practices), and between 300-400 mg in days where you need more energy. It seems that if you go beyond those levels, you might start feeling jitter, anxious, and might have a harder time sleeping. Notice that those numbers are less than many Venti Starbucks drinks, so you should be mindful when choosing your drinks. Below are some tips that might help you maximize your benefits even more:

  • Drink around 100-150 mg of coffee about 30 minutes before workouts, as it will give you an energy boost at the right time. (A tall Iced Coffee, cold brew, or a Yerba Mate will give you that amount)
  • When you have longer workouts, have a packet of GU gels with you. If you find yourself struggling with your energy levels, one packet will help you push through.
  • Choose black coffee whenever possible. If you don’t like it (I don’t), add some creamer or milk to it. Try to stay away from fancy Starbucks drinks, Red Bulls, or Monsters, as the amount of sugar in those are OUTRAGEOUS.
  • Try to refrain from drinking 3 or 4 hours before going to bed. Otherwise, you might have a harder time sleeping, and that means you will need even more coffee in the following day. It can become a pretty vicious cycle. At the end of the day, there is no substitute for a good night of sleep.
  • During midterms and finals weeks (when caffeine intake is usually through the roof), make sure you drink plenty of water. Coffee is a diuretic (will make you go to the bathroom a lot and lose a lot of fluids), so you need to make sure you’re hydrated.

I know this might be way more information than you were looking for. Most of us are just really looking to finish that 15-page paper and make sure that those 6 cups of coffee: 1) won’t get us in trouble with the NCAA; and 2) won’t kill us. So hopefully now you’ll be able to calculate how much you can actually drink in order to reap the full benefits and also stay out of trouble. An alternative to all of this would be to try to make it through college without drinking coffee. If you’re considering doing that, I wish you the best of luck. Let me know how that goes.

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