Skip Supplements to Boost Performance

Too Much Protein is Tough on Kidneys, Cause Dehydration

During the past few years, I have noticed more teen athletes are turning to supplements to make themselves stronger, faster and have increased endurance. I appreciate they want to improve their athletic performance, but ingesting supplements is not the way to go since they may do more harm than good.

Protein shakes and bars are a common choice for athletes to grab. Protein is important for our bodies since it helps repair cells and encourages healthy growth and development. A balanced diet including foods rich in protein, such as eggs, lean meat and dairy products and legumes, provides enough of this vital nutrient for most people. In addition, these foods also provide other nutrients people need.

Some protein supplements contain 80 grams of protein, which is more than most people need in their diets. Excessive protein can be tough on the body’s kidneys since they need to work harder to remove that excess. Too much protein can contribute dehydration and also cause digestive problems. For some people who have trouble adding weight or need extra nutrition, protein supplements can be helpful.

Creatine is another supplement some athletes turn to. Creatine bills itself as a way to build lean muscle mass and help muscles recover more quickly, which could translate to increased speed and strength. Studies have been inconclusive on how well creatine works and the effect of long-term use. The main side effects of taking too much creatine is dehydration, headache, digestive problems and putting too much stress on the kidneys.

While creatine and protein supplements are natural products, that does not mean they are safe. Supplements are not held up to the same rigid standards as medications by the Food & Drug Administration. Many make claims on their labels that cannot be backed up through scientific research. With all of these supplements, it is important to not forget they all contain calories so they may lead to an unexpected weight gain.

Some athletes also turn to caffeine to give their performance a boost. Caffeine has been shown to increase endurance and help propel athletes through high-intensity activities. Whether it is through an energy shot, coffee or soda, caffeine is the most widely used stimulant and is one of the most of addictive products in the world. Caffeine can make some people jittery and affect sleep cycles.

It is also important to note that the WIAA, which governs all high school athletics in Wisconsin, strongly opposes the use of supplements for performance enhancement due to the lack of scientific research showing the risks or benefits of use, particularly in adolescents. The WIAA notes supplements should only be used on the advice a healthcare provider for health-related reasons. School personnel or coaches should never encourage or endorse the use of any supplement for performance enhancement to a student athlete.

A balanced diet combining protein, fats and carbohydrates and drinking enough water is what your body needs to fuel athletic success. If you decide to add a supplement, be sure to let your medical provider know so he or she can take that into account when evaluating your health.

Melissa Johnston is a licensed athletic trainer with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care and provides services to students at Berlin High School.