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Steer Clear of Sports Supplements

Big-name sports stars aren't the only ones who use risky performance-boosting drugs or supplements. High school youths, especially athletes, often use supplements ranging from energy drinks, vitamins, herbs and minerals to illegal anabolic steroids.

Star athletes have suffered serious and even fatal harm from these drugs and supplements. The possible short- and long-term threats include stroke, heart attack and cancer. Yet many teens who’ve used steroids, ephedra and other substances aren't aware of the risks. Even worse, some do know the risks, and choose to ignore them.

Sports supplements do not require FDA approval before they are put on the market. Always talk with your healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplements. 

Parents, coaches and teachers must learn the dangers so they can teach children to avoid these unsafe substances.

Popular supplements

Here is a rundown of several popular supplements and their safety:

  • Anabolic steroids. The claim is that these substances build muscle mass and strength. Fact: These substances are illegal and dangerous. They boost the risk for stroke, heart disease, liver damage, high cholesterol, high blood pressure. It can also cause testicular shrinkage and breast enlargement in men. Red flags for anabolic steroid use:

    • Sudden bulking and muscling up

    • Violent mood swings

    • Very severe and widespread acne

    • Hair loss

    • Breast enlargement in boys

  • Androstenedione. The claim is that these substances build muscle mass and strength. Fact: "Andro," which is a banned substance, raises the risk for heart disease, cancer, liver damage and stroke. It can also cause testicular shrinkage and breast enlargement in men.

  • Creatine. The claim is that this substance builds muscle mass, and may cause weight gain. Other side effects include diarrhea, abdominal pain, and muscle cramps. Creatine use in children and teens has not been studied. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that it should not be taken by people younger than 18 years old. Its effect on the kidneys is unclear.

  • Vitamins and minerals. Young athletes who are eating healthy do not need vitamin and mineral supplements. But there may be situations such as special or restricted diets that may require vitamin supplements. Talk with your healthcare provider about your diet to see if you need a supplement. Some supplements containing the mineral chromium claim to build muscle and reduce fat. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), these supplements do not improve sports performance or build muscle.

  • Whey and casein protein. Protein is important in an athlete's diet for muscle growth. But studies show that young athletes get 3 times the amount of protein they need. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly condemns the use of performance-enhancing substances. The AAP recommends a sensible strength and conditioning program along with a well-balanced diet with proper hydration for the best long-term improvements in performance.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN