Supplement use in young athletes is not a big concern for local schools

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Okemos and Haslett High School football players put a lot of work in the off-season to try to be stronger than their opponents.

There are many ways to achieve that goal: summer camps, good dieting, weight lifting and taking supplements. However, there are many supplements in the industry, promising many different results.

“I stay away from fast foods, tend to eat balanced meals and eat enough food throughout the day,” Okemos High School senior football player Domonique Clerkley said. “Throughout the day I eat Gatorade bars and fruit. I only drink Gatorade protein shakes, other than that it’s chocolate milk.”

Clerkley said that he was told by coaches to eat well. After his sophomore year he started to get recruited and learned about consuming more protein from the colleges he visited and had camps at.

For Haslett High School junior Matthew Plaga, taking protein started at an early age.

“I started taking protein shakes in eighth grade. Maybe my parents influenced me a bit, but not much,” the football and baseball player said.

Supplements can be classified as pre-workout powder, creatine, protein and vitamins. While some of those products are safe for kids to use, some are not.

According to Fox KOKH, pre-workouts are supposed to help people have more energy for the duration of their workout.

“Almost everyone uses protein powder and C4,” said Plaga.

C4 is a brand of pre-workout mix.

In 2013, Men’s Health reported that creatine works in a similar way. It gives energy to complete a few more reps while weightlifting and “pulls water into your muscle cells, which increases protein synthesis.”

This means that if one is not working out rigorously, one will be bloated from water weight. Creatine is also ideal for sports that requires short, powerful movement like football or basketball. Possible side effects include anxiousness, rapid heartbeat, or stomach cramping.

Protein powder is used for recovery after a workout. Vitamins have a similar use, as they may help nutrient deficiencies.

“For high school kids, I see mostly football players coming in trying to get bigger,” manager of the East Lansing General Nutrition Center (GNC) Jill Kukulis said.  

However, most athletes and parents at the high school level do not know exactly what they should be looking for.

“I always tell customers what the side effects of the supplement may be,” Kukulis said. “Especially if the product contains caffeine, because it can cause heart attacks.”

The FDA does not regulate the supplement industry. In addition, the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) has no rules on supplement use amongst high school athletes.

“It is something that is considered a local issue,” executive board member of the MHSAA John Johnson said. “The schools have to decide that this an issue that they would like to bring up, and decide that there needs to be rules on.”

Dearborn Press and Guide states that recently Dearborn Public High Schools began to consider drug testing their athletes.

The MHSAA will help direct schools in leading athletes toward other alternatives. The MHSAA has created a wrestling nutrition handbook to help coaches safely train their athletes, and has worked with Sparrow to help encourage healthy student athletes.

Currently, the MHSAA has collaborated with the United Dairy Industry of Michigan to encourage smart nutrition and consumption of chocolate milk.

Because the FDA does not regulate the supplement industry, this means that there are loose regulations. According to USA Today, supplements that are printed with “supplement facts” are marketed and sold with a lot of freedom.

“Our register will notify us if the product we scanned must be sold to an adult,” Kukulis said. “But we don’t I.D.”

Pre-workout is one of the substances that has to be sold to an adult.

In a 2014 article written by Louisiana’s Health and Fitness Magazine, “Popular over-the-counter supplements like pre-workout boosters, which contain high doses of caffeine and stimulants that are banned by the NFL, fill the locker rooms of many high school programs.”  

The article also states that there is very little research conducted about supplement use in adolescence.

“Protein is basically like food. I always tell parents that some products are not meant to be taken by kids, if they are buying with the intent to give to their kids,” said Kukulis. “Supplements affect every person differently, so it is kind of hard to know how exactly it will affect them.”

GNC is a popular source for supplements. Picture by Katherine White.

As for ineffective or damaging supplements, GNC does have a system in place to report those products. The customer will have to report the item and if the item receives multiple complaints, the store will pull it.

Another topic of debate with supplements is raising awareness about it in high schools.

“Just like the general population, most student-athletes do not understand the science and safety concerns that come along with supplement use,” Michigan State University’s sports performance dietitian Rob Masterson said. “There should be more education in high school about supplement use.”

“It is not an issue that many schools feel like they need to regulate. The focus seems to be more on emergency preparedness and concussions,” said Johnson. “But it could only take one incident to change that.”

In a press release from 2002, the MHSAA executive board director John E. Roberts stated that the association should have some role in regulating supplements.

“People involved must be aware of health risks of most of these drugs and supplements,” Roberts stated in the press release. “There’s the issue of fairness. As one of the guardians of a fair and equitable playing field in educational athletics, the MHSAA must not equivocate on the message that use of performance-enhancing drugs is cheating.”

There is little regulation in multiple aspects of the supplement industry and it extends down to the high school level. There is little formal education in schools, with little regulation.

Masterson recommends to his collegiate athletes a balanced diet, lots of fluids, good sleep and a consistent strength and conditioning program, just as the MHSAA recommends.