Some surveys show anabolic steroid use has decreased among adolescents over the last decade, but a popular alternative for many athletes — over-the-counter supplements — is raising concerns among parents, coaches, the
Proponents say the legal products can provide a competitive edge and fill in nutritional gaps for athletes with hectic schedules and poor diets. But supplements, which are as easy to buy as aspirin, can pose risks to young athletes, whose developing bodies often are undergoing rapid physical changes. The long-term health effects of commonly used products such as creatine aren't known, but children often mix products or take more than the recommended amounts, and most of the safety research has been done on adults.
"(Supplements) are actually more of a potential problem in our society than steroids," said
For athletes, the benefits of taking supplements rarely outweigh the risks. With the exception of creatine, there's little evidence that sports supplements, a
Protein, for example, is relatively safe. But some products may contain multiple sources of protein, said personal trainer
Creatine, which the
Comprehensive research on supplement use among high school athletes is scarce. One 2006 study of 139 Nebraska high school athletes found 22 percent took dietary supplements. Other research shows use ranging from 8 percent to 58 percent among high school athletes. And though many high school coaches encourage exercising and eating well and don't promote any products beyond generic protein shakes, some acknowledge that teens aren't open about what they do off the field.
"It really picks up in the offseason," said Santini. "I know people who have no idea what's going into their body but they've put on 20 pounds in two or three weeks." The
Others say supplements such as protein and creatine, which can both be found naturally in whole foods, can be beneficial for teen athletes whose busy schedules and notoriously poor diets make it hard to get proper nutrition. Ingesting small amounts of protein and carbohydrates before and after exercise has been shown to have positive effects.
"I'm often ridiculed by my colleges for my unwavering belief in supplementation and its ability to positively affect athletic performance," Banda wrote in his e-book, "Nutritional Supplements for Sports and Wellness." "But in an increasingly competitive world, optimal supplementation can mean the difference between coming in first place or bringing up the rear."
Santini, who now is studying criminal justice at the