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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 don't know about 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 not use these unsafe substances.

Popular supplements

Here is a rundown of some supplements and their safety:

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

    • 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" is a banned substance. It 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 are diarrhea, belly 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 age 18. Its effect on the kidneys is not clear.

  • 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 AAP strongly condemns the use of performance-enhancing substances. It recommends a sensible strength and conditioning program along with a well-balanced diet with proper hydration for the best long-term improvements in performance.

Online Medical Reviewer: Fetterman, Anne, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Joseph, Thomas N., MD
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2018
© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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