It seems simple. If you want to get bigger, stronger, leaner, faster- supplement are the answer, right? Protein powders. Creatine. BCAA’s. There’s no end to the options.
But are they safe?
Creatine, for example, is one of the most researched supplements for its possible muscle strength benefits, EXCEPT…
the testing wasn’t conducted on growing athletes, or essentially anyone under age 20.
Most teens get supplement information from peers, health store employees, and social media instead of doctors, sports nutritionists, or dieticians. Which means they typically aren't receiving credible information.
Since the $125 billion industry is loosely regulated, here’s a few things to consider when determining if supplements are safe for teen athletes:
Ingredients. We expect what’s on the ingredient label to be in the product- and vice versa. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, especially for imported products. This poses a greater risk for those with food allergies and inadvertent consumption of banned ingredients.
Testing. While some products and ingredients have undergone testing, keep in mind that nearly none of it has been done on kids or teens. Yes, that includes products specifically marketed to kids. Some ingredients fall under the GRAS category: generally regarded as safe. Which means companies can continue using them until significant side-effects are reported. So why aren't they tested on kids? Testing is expensive and often invasive. And, since every adolescent matures at different rates, testing results would vary widely, even for same aged athletes.
Eligibility. Regardless if the product is recommended by a friend, coach, or doctor, ultimately- according to the NCAA and IOC- responsibility falls on the athlete. If the athlete tests positive for a banned substance, they are responsible… even if it was consumed unknowingly, even if it wasn’t listed as an ingredient.
The good news, though, is that most growing athletes can meet their nutritional needs with real foods. Yes, even if their goal is to get “bigger/stronger/faster.” That’s not to say supplements are never important: diagnosed vitamin deficiencies or vegan diets may necessitate them.
However, before choosing a supplements, understanding labeling and third party verifications specific to athletes is essential to reduce risks.
Want to know how your athlete can meet their goals with safer, real foods? Let’s chat.