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Protein drinks and supplements could be dangerous to young athletes

More teens who are involved in middle and high school sports are scooping, shaking and guzzling protein shakes and muscle-growing supplements hoping to become bigger, faster and stronger.

Many of these youth athletes rely on ready-to-drink protein shakes to bulk up and build muscle mass. 

"I've gotten more endurance," said student athlete Dolan Culpepper. "I've been able to go longer. I've been able to lift more."

Often, these drinks contain fillers and ingredients that aren't really healthy and could trigger health problems in the future.

There are things teens and their parents should be aware of before allowing young athletes to drink protein shakes or ingest other muscle growing supplements like testosterone boosters, a complex of amino acids, human growth stimulators, or Creatine. 

Many parents and coaches don't object to young athletes consuming these products. They think there's no harm in teens taking these supplements.
 
"We recommend that student athletes from the ages of 13, once they start puberty, they should take whey protein shakes, muscle milk, things like that if they're involved in muscle resistance/weight training workouts," said Personal Trainer and Nutritionist Ricardo Wright.

Some physicians, however, have their doubts about the potential benefits of protein drinks and other supplements for building muscle because the Food and Drug Administration, the regulatory agency that monitors the safety of our food in the US, doesn't know all the long-term effects of consuming these products.

"Protein drinks and shakes aren't a bad thing, but what you have to be aware of, though, is that they are not FDA regulated. That holds true for any of the supplements, shakes, and any of the drinks," said Eric Warren, M.D., a sports medicine physician with Presbyterian Healthcare. "You have to trust the manufacturer to put in that drink or supplement or shake what they say they are putting in there."

Some of these supplements contain trans fat and added fructose sweeteners which can cause a young person to consume more calories from protein than their bodies actually need. 

According to Warren, this can lead to fat gain and potential health problems later in life.

"Certainly, you have to watch calories when you ingest protein shakes and things of that nature, you don't want to end up with obesity long-term which is associated with diabetes, high blood pressure and those things," Warren said.    

Teens don't have to rely on protein drinks to build muscle.

Warren says you can get just as much protein and carbohydrates from eating a healthy balanced diet that contains natural foods like lean chicken, tuna fish, beans, cottage cheese, and hard-boiled eggs. 

You can also try pouring a glass of chocolate milk following an intense workout. Not only does it taste great, it's high in protein and carbohydrates, better for your health, and your wallet.

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Additional Information:

  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, youth athletes can keep healthy by: getting plenty of rest, setting realistic goals, getting training, coaching, and advice from reliable professionals, playing safely and using protective gear, talking with your pediatrician about your health and nutrition, and how to prevent injuries and gain strength safely.
  • Athletes should avoid taking steroids because they can cause:
    -acne on the face and back
    -baldness
    -a slowdown of growth in athletes who aren't done growing yet
    -high blood pressure
    -unhealthy cholesterol changes, and heart disease, blood clots and stroke
    -liver damage, jaundice, or liver cancer, headaches, aching joints, and muscle cramps
    -nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
    -sleep problems
    -increased risk of ligament and tendon injuries, which can end your athletic career for good (Source: American Academy of Pediatrics)
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics says the makers of the supplement creatine claim their product will give athletes short bursts of activity, but the studies only show a 3% to 5% improvement in performance.
  • Click here to read - "Can protein shakes cause belly fat?"