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Know What Supplements Your Teenage Athletes are Taking

Know What Supplements Your Teenage Athletes are Taking

, by Dr. Jeff Pearl, MD, 2 min reading time


The pressures of competition, the drive to win, and the dream of an athletic scholarship are pushing our teen athletes to try and be bigger, stronger and faster than their peers. Many coaches are knowledgeable about nutrition and safe supplements including policies forbidding the use of certain substances. Others may either lack the knowledge or turn a blind eye in the quest for victory. More alarming is the fact that there is known use of anabolic steroids, growth hormone and other performance enhancing drugs by teen athletes. This suggests parental consent and knowledge as most of these are too expensive for teens to afford on their own.

Not only are the benefits of these agents unproven, they have dangerous and lasting side effects which may be even more drastic in teens than in adults.

Supplements to absolutely avoid:

  1. Testosterone Supplements and Anabolic Steroids: Seriously, what teen boy needs more testosterone? More is not better and in fact can be dangerous. Absolutely avoid anabolic steroids. Look for and avoid substances with Androstenedione or DHEA (prohormones). Side effects of anabolic steroids include testicular cancer, liver and brain tumors, infertility, stroke, CV disease, breast development (gynecomastia), and shrinking of testicles. Failure to reach full adult height can result from anabolic steroid use in teens. That is not to say that in grown men, especially over age 40, there may be a role for testosterone supplementation.
  2. Thermogenics (Fat Burners). Athletes do not need to encourage further thermogenesis. Training is plenty. Okay, for all the wrestlers trying to make weight and gymnasts and models, there are safer ways to maintain a healthy and appropriate weight and body fat percentage. Common ingredients include Ephedrine and MaHuang. Ephedra is now banned by the FDA but other supplements have ephedrine like properties (yerba mate, guarana). They can cause stroke, seizures, heart attacks and the effects are often exacerbated by caffeine use.

A word about Creatine: Commonly used by weight lifters (especially power lifters) and sprinters, creatine has found its way into the supplements of many football players. The theory behind creatine is that it is the basic building block for the energy molecule ATP. It is used to increase strength and muscle endurance especially in burst activities. It is now an ingredient in many pre-workout drinks, along with high levels of caffeine. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that it not be used in those under 18 years of age. Side effects include weight gain, abdominal discomfort including diarrhea, and bloating. Creatine use has been associated with the development of exertional compartment syndrome which has been on the rise. If your older teen athlete chooses to use creatine, limit it to 3.5 to 5gm/day and take a 1-2 week break every 4 weeks.

In short, for most athletes, supplemental vitamins and minerals, protein drinks and bars, a healthy diet and plenty of hydration is all that is needed to succeed.


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