Supplement Use in High School Athletes

Contributed by Amanda Albiar

High school athletic programs, especially football, are bigger than ever and athletes are looking to gain any potential edge to win a state championship or earn a college scholarship. Research from the Taylor Hooton Foundation indicates 35% of middle school and high school athletes are using protein supplements. What’s more alarming is that 5.9% of male high school athletes and 4.6% of female high school athletes are using anabolic steroids to gain a competitive edge. Furthermore, popular over-the-counter supplements like pre-workout boosters (i.e Cellucor C4, NO-XPLODE, etc) which contain high doses of caffeine and stimulants that are banned by the NFL, fill the locker rooms of many high school programs.

In 2007, the LHSAA conducted a study on 25,000 high school athletes in Louisiana on dietary supplements. The primary reasons athletes turned to supplements were to: 1) gain mass and weight, 2) get stronger, 3) reduce body fat, and 4) have more energy. Without examining their current dietary habits, athletes felt a supplement was the answer to their performance issues. What should concern you isn’t why athletes take supplements, rather the source of their information on supplements. The research indicated that the most influential people who recommend supplements are the coaches, teammates, and friends.

The primary reason why high school athletes are turning to supplements is that they are under-fueled to meet the amount of energy and calories they burn. If they understood why, they could simply make a few changes to their current eating habits that would ultimately lead to muscle growth, fat loss, improved strength, and faster recovery.

Be careful of staff behind the supplement store counter. These are generally individuals without any formal education in nutrition, biochemistry, chemistry, or pharmacology. If you wanted to buy a new car, television, or furniture, you don’t expect the person to have the initials, MD, RD, RPh, or PhD behind their name. On the other hand, when you take a product that may minimize your risk for cancer or cardiovascular disease, improve your sleeping patterns, increase muscle mass and strength, or improve performance, it is best to ask a medical professional, not a salesperson without any formal education in the areas of interest. Would you go to a layman salesperson to receive advice about prescription drugs? Many supplement store staff are trained to sell the most popular products on the shelves or those with the highest margins.

Athletes should generally not be supplementing things they can get naturally. It comes down to educating the athletes that there are food sources out there that can give them the vitamins and nutrients that will allow them to recover and perform on a daily basis. There is too much money and marketing that is shoved in the face of young athletes by putting their favorite players face on it. This in turn gives a false representation of what these products can do for them. Little to their knowledge, the athlete’s favorite player is merely getting paid to endorse the product and in many cases doesn’t even take the product themselves. There is constant pressure to be bigger, faster, stronger in order to stay on the playing field. What we need to do is spend more time educating athletes that what they put in their bodies can have an immediate and long term effect on their athletic performance and long term health. By simply regulating their diets, they can reap the same, if not better results than their supplements with the colorful labels. Real food first.

The bottom line is …every consumer should seek the advice of their health care professional before consuming supplements AND make sure they are only putting supplements in their body that is screened by NSF certified for sport or informed choice. These programs are in place to help ensure product integrity, label claim verification, heavy metal screening and banned substance screening. NSF certified for sport program is recognized by the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, PGA abd the US Military for a reason.

Health & Fitness Magazine / March 2015 / Should High School Athletes Take Supplements?

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