Teens Athletes & Nutritional Supplements

Should Your Teenager Take Supplements?

We get asked lots of questions from athletes and parents about various products to help their son or daughter improve performance or get a little extra benefit from all their hard work in the weight room.  They think being a little faster or a little stronger will make them a better athlete or get that coveted scholarship.  Furthermore, as a society we’re inundated with ads promising results and endorsements from high profile athletes.  Sadly though, many of the products out there have little scientific evidence supporting their use and the benefits are largely anecdotal.  Therefore, it’s important for us to be honest with our athletes and their parents about these products in regards to their efficacy as well as their safety.  No question, there have been case reports of kids having adverse reactions to supplements, but many times, they were used inappropriately.  That’s why it’s imperative that all the facts are on the table when it comes to this discussion.
Supplement Image 300x137 Teens Athletes & Nutritional Supplements
A study came out recently in the Journal of Pediatrics and it was highlighted here in an article on CNN’s website.  In summary, many nutritional or supplement stores recommended athletes take supplements, specifically creatine or testosterone boosters, when asked or prompted by the caller.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has discouraged use of these supplements specifically in athletes younger than 18 years old.

So Are These Particular Ones Bad?

There are few points worth making in regards to not only this particular study, but also supplements in general.

  1.  Young athletes should get a balanced diet FIRST.  Many kids are on the run and many kids eat too much fast food and/or junk food.  Lots of youngsters love energy drinks and sugary sodas.  If need be, schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian to talk about diet, snacking, and individual needs for your son/daughter.  Supplements are just that – supplements.  They are no substitute for a balanced diet.  We cannot emphasize that enough.  We advocate that our athletes talk to their doctor as well as a dietitian about appropriateness as well as need for supplements.
  2. True, many supplements just make for an empty bank account and really expensive pee.  Yep, a majority of the supplements out there have no peer-reviewed evidence supporting (or refuting) their use.   Most of it is case study based or anecdotal.  Plus, we really have to make sure we’re “comparing apples to apples.”  A professional bodybuilder, who may be paid to make the claims, is not the same as your teenager.  What’s appropriate for one person may be entirely inappropriate for another.
  3. The FDA doesn’t regulate this industry.  Therefore, you really don’t know what you’re really taking or what’s actually in the pills or powders.  The list of potential adverse reactions that could occur is innumerable.

What about the supplements in the article?

Now, from the article, it’s evident that creatine gets a bad rap.  Even though we’re not advocating teens take creatine, this is actually one supplement with some legitimate science behind it.  Here’s a good summary of what we know on creatine.  Indeed, there are case studies of dehydration and cramping, but many of these side effects are avoided with proper hydration and proper dosing.  Sadly, there have been some deaths that were linked to creatine, but the training methods engaged were of questionable safety.  Therefore, it’s important to look at the evidence, the facts, and each case individually to determine appropriateness.  Education is paramount when it comes to creatine or any other supplement.
Regarding testosterone boosters, we do not support those.  If there is a legitimate, medically-diagnosed hormone deficiency, then hormone therapy administered by a medical doctor is appropriate.  Other than that, we encourage our athletes to avoid these.

Summary on Supplements

Supplements are really expensive.  Many of them have no peer-reviewed science behind them and may have questionable side effects or safety concerns.  Most kids don’t get a balanced diet to start with, and supplements are no substitute for it.  If you are considering supplements for your son/daughter, we strongly advise talking to their physician as well as a dietitian to help decide if a particular supplement is warranted and/or safe for your son/daughter.

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