08 Aug Should Youth Athletes be Taking Dietary Supplements? Are They Necessary?
The prevalence of supplement use among the young athletic populations is relatively high. The percentage of youth athletes, ages 11-18, using dietary supplements has been reported to vary from 22.3 percent to 71 percent. The majority of athletes have reported starting to take dietary supplements to perform at high levels in their sport. Others have reported that they have engaged in this behavior in the attempt to pursue a physical ideal, prevent/treat illness, and/or as a result of peer or marketing pressure.
Supplements vs. performance-enhancing substances
A dietary supplement is any product taken by mouth that contains a “dietary ingredient.” The dietary ingredients can vary from vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, botanicals to any other substance that can be used to supplement the diet.
On the other hand, performance-enhancing substances (PES) can be over-the-counter dietary supplements or banned physical performance-enhancement drugs, consumed in the attempt to improve athletic performance. The most frequently used PES by children and adolescents are protein supplements, amino acids, and related compounds, caffeine, and creatine.
Dietary supplements have been created under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 as a category that doesn’t require the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety and efficacy evaluation before the product goes to the market. For instance, many of the over-the counter supplements that can be found on retail shelves can potentially contain active ingredients that are not listed on their labels; therefore, over-the-counter supplements may pose a health risk to young athletes due to possible contamination of heavy metals and anabolic agents, among other substances.
Thus, the American Academy of Pediatrics highly discourages the use of performance-enhancing substances in children and adolescents due to the safety risk. This recommendation excludes the clinical use of dietary supplements, such as iron, calcium, B12 and vitamin D, when taken under the appropriate guidance from a qualified health care provider (e.g., medical doctor, registered dietitian).
These are commonly used among the youth population and athletic population and are found in whey, casein, and/or amino acids. Even though optimal protein consumption is essential for muscle, tissue growth and repair, young athletes should aim to reach their daily protein requirements from whole foods. Food is less expensive and doesn’t impose a health risk to this population.