Supplements for Teenage Athletes
A common question I often receive from teenage athletes is what supplements they should take to help improve their performance. With the promise of many supplements to help athletes run faster, hit harder, or jump higher, taking a supplement can be enticing.
The truth is, while there are some supplements that may be of benefit, the starting point for most athletes is first improving the quality of their diet. Athletes need to first focus on improving their nutrition game plan. Then they can consider what supplements may be needed to complement their sports nutrition meal plan.
Supplements for Teenage Athletes: Questions to Consider
Prior to taking a sports supplement, I encourage teenage athletes to consider the following questions regarding their diet.
- Do you eat breakfast every day?
- Do you eat frequently throughout the day – at least three meals and three healthy snacks??
- Do you eat a variety of foods from all of the food groups?
- Do you include a source of lean protein with each meal?
- Do you include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet?
- Do you have a hydration plan to support your training and competitions?
- Do you have a well-planned post-workout recovery nutrition plan?
- Do you get adequate quality sleep each night?
If the answer is “no” to any of the questions above, I would encourage the athlete to first work on filling the gaps in their sports nutrition diet.
Once the athlete has optimized their sports nutrition meal plan, then supplements may be considered on an individual basis to support performance goals. Athletes should keep in mind that the intent is to supplement their diet, not replace good nutrition habits.
Note: If the athlete has a nutrient deficiency, such as Vitamin D or iron, it is important to visit with a sports dietitian nutritionist or physician. Often a supplement combined with a well-planned diet will be necessary to help with correcting the deficiency.
Evaluating Supplements for Teenage Athletes
When evaluating supplements for teenage athletes, my first priority is safety. It is important to be aware that dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the same way that food is.
Supplements may contain banned substances that could make the athlete ineligible for competition or be harmful to the athlete’s health. In addition, supplements many contain added stimulants and mega-doses of nutrients that are not necessary for sports performance.
Let’s explore criteria that should be considered when evaluating supplements for teenage athletes.
Is the Supplement Third-Party Tested?
Due to the concerns related to supplements containing banned substances, athletes should look for supplements that have been third-party tested.
When a supplement is third-party tested, it has been evaluated by an outside organization for accuracy of ingredients. In addition to ingredients, the outside organization evaluates the supplement company’s manufacturing process and procedures.
Two companies that evaluate and certify sports supplements are NSF International Certified for Sport and Informed Sport. From their websites you can search for products and supplement brands that have been tested and certified by the organization.
Does the Supplement Contain a Proprietary Blend of Ingredients?
Athletes should be cautious if the supplement label states the supplement contains a “proprietary blend” of ingredients. If the supplement has a proprietary or secret blend of ingredients, do not take the product. It is important to know the type and amount of ingredients contained in the product to determine if the supplement is appropriate for a teenage athlete to take.
Does the Supplement Contain Mega-Doses of Ingredients?
Athletes should review the supplement label for information on the types and amounts of vitamins and minerals the product contains. It is not uncommon to find dietary supplements that contain mega-doses of vitamins and minerals.
There is not a need for a teen athlete to consume a mega-dose of any nutrient. This is particularly a concern when a teen intends to consume multiple servings of the supplement during the day.
Does the Supplement Contain Added Stimulants?
In addition to caffeine, it is common to find that many supplements, particularly pre-workout supplements, contain a variety of ingredients aimed at causing a stimulatory effect on the body.
The supplement may advertise it contains an “energy blend,” which contains ingredients such as synephrine, green tea extract, and yerba mate. The combination of stimulants may have a synergistic effect in the body and be dangerous to the athlete’s health.
Seek Guidance on Supplements for Teenage Athletes
If you have questions regarding the use of sports supplements for teenage athletes, seek guidance from a sports dietitian nutritionist. The sports dietitian nutritionist can evaluate the supplement and work with your teen on a plan to help meet their sports nutrition goals.
Supplements for Teen Athletes
You now have key criteria to utilize when evaluating a sports supplement for teen athletes. As a reminder, supplements should not take the place of real food in a teen athlete’s diet. Teens should focus on eating real food to build the foundation of their sports nutrition meal plans.
For additional sports nutrition tips for teen athletes, check out my blog: Breakfast for Teens on the Go: Tips for Athletes.
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About the Author
Mandy is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. Learn more about the work Mandy does here.