Do Teens Need Sports Supplements?

It’s easy to see the appeal of sports supplements for young athletes. Pro athletes and body builders endorse them. And they’re marketed as being able to improve athletic performance. But should kids and teens take them? No, says Dr. Shane Miller, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at Children’s Medical Center.

“If young athletes are eating healthy and working out, they don’t need supplements,” Dr. Miller says. “The body makes most of the things in supplements on its own, and we also get them from foods in our diet.” See what Dr. Miller tells a group of middle school football players about supplements and energy drinks.

What are sports supplements?

Sports supplements are pills or powders that contain high amounts of vitamins, minerals and/or amino acids. People usually take them to increase their strength and muscle development or to speed up weight gain or weight loss.

They’ve become increasingly popular in the last 20 years as training among youth athletes has intensified. In the past, even professional athletes avoided training before the season. But today, junior high and high school athletes condition themselves year-round to perform at peak levels. The “any little advantage makes a difference” mentality means some athletes will try just about anything to gain a competitive edge. Getting that supposed edge through supplements is easy for kids or teens to do, since most supplements are available over the counter.

Supplements’ effects on children and teens unknown

However, taking supplements can be risky. Supplements don’t require FDA approval before they hit the market, and no testing has been done to show what they do to the rapidly growing bodies of children. Dr. Miller says taking them isn’t worth the risk. “Young athletes should be able to get everything they need to grow and become better athletes without having to take any supplements,” he says.

Are your young athletes using sports supplements?

Here’s a list of common supplements, many of which are available over the counter:

  • Protein Powders are usually sold in whey or soy varieties. Protein powders are not harmful in small amounts, but the average American diet already has two to three times the amount of protein they need. Excess protein can be stored as fat and possibly lead to kidney damage.
  • Androstenedione is called a “natural steroid” because the body makes it on its own; may lead to serious side effects like testicular cancer, stroke, infertility, and increased risk of heart disease. Previously used by professional athletes, andro became illegal in 2004.
  • Creatine is also naturally made in the body, but its side effects are not as severe as those from andro. Creatine’s side effects include weight gain, diarrhea, muscle cramps and abdominal pain. It is sold over the counter but not recommended for people younger than 18. Learn more about creatine and supplements without creatine at
  • HGH is naturally produced in the pituitary gland and is responsible for growth in children and adolescents. It is used to help enhance growth, but should never be used by children under 18. Read more about HGH at
  • Thermogenics are also known as “fat burners.” People take them to lose weight or increase energy. The main ingredient in thermogenics in the past was ephedra, but ephedra was taken off of the market because people died from it. However, new thermogenics use ephedra-like ingredients, including bitter orange or country mallow, which have similar effects. For more information on thermogenics visit

For more information on performance-enhancing supplements in children, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy.

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Craig Foster of the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, for this story.

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