There are many legal performance enhancers on the market, but that doesn’t mean they are safe. Student athletes may be tempted to try some of these aids in order to improve their performance in competition. However, manufacturers of dietary supplements can make outlandish claims without doing the research to back up those claims. Additionally, effects of long term use are unknown and could be harmful. There is even concern about some of the more well-researched supplements, such as creatine. While creatine has been shown to increase body weight, strength and muscle mass, there are several unpleasant and potentially harmful side effects including nausea, diarrhea, cramping and dehydration.
One of the most serious concerns for young athletes is the potential for them to make the jump from legal to illegal performance enhancers. Studies have shown that users of legal substances are more likely to take illegal drugs, such as anabolic steroids. Once athletes begin to see small improvements in their performance, they can be inclined to seek even greater results from illegal aids that can cause detrimental side effects and long term complications such as heart disease and organ failure.
Eating healthy food and training hard is the best and safest way to improve athletic performance. For more information about supplement use in young athletes, see the Missouri Families article entitled, Pills, powders can’t replace training and diet for young athletes.
Contributor: Mary Wissmann, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, St. Louis County, University of Missouri Extension, WissmannM@missouri.edu