Doctors warn against protein powder and supplements for teenagers

There is no added benefit to extra creatine

AUSTIN (KXAN) — With two-a-days happening in just a few weeks, high school football players may look to supplements like protein powder to build muscle. Experts say the numbers of teens using them has been going up, even non-athletes wanting to change their appearance. It’s a trend the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says is dangerous.

“A lot of the supplements tout, ‘this will help muscle mass’, but really, how you build muscle mass is to exercise and eat protein from your diet,” said Dr. Kelly Thorstad, a pediatrician at St. David’s Children’s Hospital. “The protein you can get from a protein supplement is not better protein than you can get from food. And you would get more complete, rounded out protein from your food than you would an individual supplement.”

Dr. Thorstad says another big concern is that supplement products aren’t regulated by the FDA, and many contain contaminants like heavy metals, stimulants and anabolic steroids.

“Need to realize that what’s on the label is not necessarily what’s in the product. And I think that’s what the parents really need to know, that the risk of contaminants in supplements is what is the medical worry,” said Dr. Thorstad.

Coaches in Austin ISD do not advocate players take supplements, however some students still do on their own.

“We always tell them, if you’re going to do it on your own, make sure you know what you’re taking. Do your research, talk to your parents, talk to doctors, look it up, make sure you know what you’re putting in your body,” said Lee Hipp, Strength and Conditioning Coach at Bowie High School.

Hipp says they work to encourage healthy eating, and teach players to get protein from real food like chocolate milk, chicken and eggs.

“Most of my teammates take creatine, take protein, protein shakes, protein powder, different kind of stuff,” said Joshua Smythe-Macaulay, a football player at Bowie High School. “I take them because they say when you take protein it’s supposed to enhance muscle growth.”

Another player, Quintavious Buckner, says he also uses protein powder. “The feeling I get when I drink it – it motivates me and I’m ready to go, I’m ready to push myself and work.”

Dr. Thorstad says during two-a-days, players don’t necessarily need more protein, but more fluids and calories.

“If you’re eating healthy food choices, you’re going to get all the nutrients you need without supplements,” said Dr. Thorstad. “Being a teenager in and of itself with the natural hormonal elevations that they have will help them gain muscle mass more than a supplement would be.”

Another concern of doctors is that use of these supplements can lead to riskier behaviors, like using anabolic steroids.

AAP says recent surveys of high school students report protein supplement use by 30% of boys and 18% of girls. They’re encouraging teenagers to get their protein from food sources and not supplements.

More information from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Protein supplements typically are in the form of powders, shakes or bars.  They commonly contain 20-30 grams (g) of protein per serving, which is similar to the amount contained in a 3-4 ounce (oz) chicken breast.
  • Young athletes may require up to 2 g protein/kilogram (kg) body weight/day (almost 70 g in a 150-pound athlete). This often is readily met with a typical American omnivorous diet.
  • Vegetarians and others who are restricting their diet may benefit from nutritional consultation, but several easy changes can greatly increase dietary protein intake, as follows:
  • Traditional yogurt has 7 g protein/6 oz serving, while Greek yogurt provides 17 g and cottage cheese has 21 g.
  • Nonfat dry milk contains 12 g protein per half cup. This can be added to soups, sauces or beverages as a “hidden” source of added protein.
  • Peanuts, almonds and cashews all contain over 20 g protein per 100 g serving.
  • Creatine use has been reported by 18% of 12th-grade males and almost 2% of 12th-grade females.
  • Creatine is stored in skeletal muscle and helps replenish adenosine triphosphate during maximal effort activities of short duration.
  • The body requires about 1 g ingested creatine/day, which can be found in 2-3 servings of meat or fish.
  • There is no added benefit to extra creatine.

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