Are Sports Supplements Recommended for Teens?

A healthy lifestyle is the best way to achieve optimal physical performance. Sports supplements are not recommended for children under 18 years of age.
Are Sports Supplements Recommended for Teens?
Leidy Mora Molina

Reviewed and approved by the nurse Leidy Mora Molina.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 08 October, 2022

There’s quite a bit of controversy surrounding the use of sports supplements in adolescents or teenagers. It’s common that at this stage of life, many young people want to practice sports and perform at their best, but is it a good idea to resort to supplements to achieve this?

What’s particularly worrying in this area is the fact that many of these products don’t have scientific research to back up their efficacy and safety. The market is full of substances promoted as formulas to gain more muscle mass or improve fitness, and teenagers are sensitive to these messages.

What are sports supplements?

Let’s start by saying that sports supplements are pharmaceutical products that usually contain a particular dietary ingredient. Such an ingredient usually contains plant extracts and vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, probiotics, or other minerals.

Sports supplements are promoted as substances that help improve a person’s performance. Sometimes they claim to increase muscle mass, enhance physical performance, or even promote weight loss.

The problem is that many of these supplements don’t have scientific studies to back them up. So, on the one hand, there’s the possibility that they’re completely ineffective. On the other hand, it’s also necessary to assess whether they can actually cause harm to adolescents.

sports supplements
Certain supplements are sold under weak regulations, so their safety can’t be certified.

The risks of sports supplements in adolescents

Most studies on sports supplements have been carried out with adults. At present, there’s very little research that examines the effect of these substances on adolescents. It should not be overlooked that this is a critical age for physical and mental development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend the use of sports supplements in persons under 18 years of age. Available data indicates that between 12% and 58% of supplements on the market don’t list several of their ingredients on the product label. This signifies many possible risks.

Some of the possible side effects that adolescents may experience are as follows:

  • Allergic reactions
  • The appearance of acne
  • Hair loss
  • Sleep disorders
  • Growth problems
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Kidney or liver damage
  • Mood changes
  • Increased tendency to aggressiveness
  • Alterations in the sexual organs (in the case of young men, there can be a reduction to the size of the testicles. In women, enlargement of the clitoris may occur.)

Which sports supplements should be avoided?

In general, adolescents should avoid sports supplements that include the following components:

  • Guarana
  • Germander
  • Geranium (or DMAA)
  • Yerba mate extract
  • Yohimbine (or erex, testomar, yocon, yohimar, yohimbe)
  • Phenylethylamines (or PEA, B-phenylethylamine, N-methylphenylethylamine)
  • Bitter orange (or biarade, Seville, sour orange, Citrus aurantium)
  • Bael tree fruit (or N-[2-hydroxy-2(4-methoxyphenyl) ethyl]-3-phenyl-2-propenamide)

Likewise, it’s not a good idea to take any sports supplements that contain a proprietary blend. Any substance can fall under this name. Products that contain words such as hardcore or extreme in their labeling can’t be trusted.

It’s recommended that if a teen wants to consume one of these substances, he/she should first consult a doctor.

Nothing replaces a balanced diet rich in protein. However, certain sports supplements can be used with relative safety. These include the following:

  • Multivitamins: These combine vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients. They can complement a person’s nutritional intake of food, although this is rarely certified.
  • Essential amino acids: These strengthen the immune system and help a person gain muscle mass.
  • Proteins: These sports supplements favor the gain of muscle mass and help to replenish calories in highly competitive athletes.
  • Creatine: This increases athletic performance and favors muscle mass gain. In some people, however, it causes dehydration, nausea, and cramps.
  • Caffeine: Caffeine reduces fatigue and tiredness. It also optimizes physical performance and improves cellular activity.
sports supplements
Although substances such as creatine have been shown to be effective, the results of the studies must be filtered because they almost never involve adolescents, only adults.

Lifestyle advice for teen athletes

Ideally, adolescents should refrain from taking sports supplements. There’s so much doubt and so little data available that it’s wise to err on the side of caution. On the other hand, there are natural and healthy ways to stay fit:

  • Get enough rest. Adolescents need more than 8 hours of sleep, on average.
  • Eat a healthy and appropriate diet: A varied diet is the best way to prevent injuries, avoid fatigue, and have adequate performance.
  • Train properly: Combine cardiovascular training with strength training.
  • Don’t consume any harmful substances: Tobacco, alcohol, and psychoactive substances are substances that impair both physical and mental performance.

A nutritionist should always be consulted to identify the dietary requirements of each adolescent. This professional can also point out whether or not it’s advisable to take sports supplements.

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The contents of this publication are for informational purposes only. At no time can they serve to facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult with your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.