By Dev Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
- Supplement use is common amongst high school athletes
- Supplements such as creatine and protein powder have good safety profiles for use in teenagers
- You must purchase from a very high quality manufacturer otherwise you risk having banned substances or dangerous substances in your supplement mix
This week, I had a number of parents enquire about the safety of various supplements their high school aged sons were considering using to prepare for spring and summer football practices. I want to provide a very brief review, focusing on creatine and protein.
The first thing I’d like to mention is that the best source of building blocks and fuel for your body is through high quality real food. Having said that, I know that a high percentage of our high school athletes take various supplements and this trend will continue. And the second important thing is that you absolutely must purchase from a very high quality manufacturer of the supplements.
There are four substances commonly used as supplements by high school athletes: creatine, protein powder, HMB, and stimulants like caffeine. When used correctly these supplements can be safe and effective.
Creatine is a nonessential amino acid naturally produced in the liver. Creatine is believed to have a number of important functions in the body, and in particular for athletes creatine is effective at increasing power and force in short bouts of increased exertion and in repeated efforts of maximal exertion (sports requiring short sprints or power). Creatine has been extensively studied in adults and is known to be generally safe, and legal in professional sports leagues and the NCAA. There are a few studies about creatine use in adolescent athletes and these also show a good safety profile. The possible side effects from creatine supplements include muscle cramping, dehydration, and upset stomach. If you’re taking creatine you need to really focus on hydration, especially during warm weather and summer two-a-days.
Protein supplements are also used commonly by high school athletes, mainly to assist in improving muscle mass and strength. Protein supplements purchased from a highly reputable manufacturer are often combined with creatine and HMB (see below). Without any doubt whatsoever your best source of protein is through natural sources such as grass-fed beef, free range chicken, or wild fish such as salmon. A typical 165 pound teenage athlete will need about 125 grams of protein per day, and you can easily get about 75 to 100 grams through your healthy diet. It could be reasonable to supplement with about 25 to 50 grams of high quality protein powder. There are many, many formulations available, and I think the manufacturer is extremely important. See below for one I like. As with creatine, be sure to stay really well-hydrated if you are taking protein supplements.
The last two legal supplements I want to mention are HMB (Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate) which is a metabolite of the amino acid leucine, and the stimulant caffeine. HMB is typically combined with creatine and has been shown to increase lean body mass and strength in progressive resistance exercise training. Adult studies of HMB show a good safety profile but there are very few studies in the adolescent athlete. It is legal, but I am unconvinced so use with caution and if possible you might just leave HMB out of your supplements.
Caffeine is an interesting substance found in many different drinks and athletic snacks. Technically, caffeine is banned by the NCAA but it is legal up to a certain limit. It has been shown to improve aerobic performance in runners and other endurance athletes. But the flip side of caffeine is that if it is consumed just before race time you could be asking for trouble with stomach cramps and bloating, and possibly being jittery or hyperactive.
I want to conclude by telling you again that your best source of proper building blocks for muscle and performance are through high quality natural sources from real food. But I also know that supplement use amongst high school athletes is very common and we need to deal with that safely. You need to be extremely careful about who you buy from as unreputable manufacturers might have banned substances in their supplement powder “mix”, there might even be dangerous substances such as stimulants that can cause heart issues. One manufacturer I like is EAS. Check them out if you feel like you’d like to go down the supplement pathway.