I recently had a local reporter ask me my opinion on supplements in general and particularly as they applied to kids and young athletes. A local sports medicine doctor he had asked had told him he did not recommend protein supplements to kids and he wanted to know my take. Here is what I told him…
While I don’t want to sound confrontational with the doctor (whom I know and have worked with) I see no problem with young athletes taking protein supplements. My take is pretty simple – when we are trying to get our kids and young athletes to eat healthier then why would we discourage them from using a protein supplement which is far healthier than fast food or junk food?
Sure, you don’t want a kid eating nothing but protein shakes and they don’t need those products that combine protein with other supplements (like Muscle Milk which is hugely popular with teenagers) but using a pure whey protein supplement to mix in with some fruit and milk to make a fruit smoothie can’t hurt them. I encourage the kids I work with to get one or two of those in a day to fill in the gaps between meals with something other than junk.
Also, there is absolutely no evidence at all that healthy people taking protein will have any adverse side effects. The studies used to conclude that protein supplements might be bad for your kidneys came from studies on people with pre-existing kidney conditions. No studies on healthy people have shown the same results.
Creatine is one of those supplements that won’t hurt you (you’ll just pee out what your body does not absorb) but its effects, both good and bad, have been greatly exaggerated and most kids simply won’t see much from it, making it a waste of time in my book. I don’t use or recommend for the most part.
Two things to keep in mind with supplements – first, they are intended to “supplement” a good diet and training program. Most kids don’t eat well and they have sub-par training programs. They don’t need supplements like creatine unless they have everything else dialed in. Too often people want something to “make up for” bad habits which is never the way to go.
Second, some supplements help us fill in dietary gaps. For example, taking fish oil or some other essential fatty acid supplement simply helps make up for the fact that we don’t eat enough of them from our diet. We need several grams of essential fatty acids per day and few of us get that, making supplementation necessary from a healthy body function perspective. In fact, if kids really wanted to see improvements from a supplement they should take 6 grams of fish oil per day. The science backing the inclusion of essential fatty acid supplements is long and impressive.
So, the real question is what are you trying to accomplish with the supplement? If you are trying to fill in dietary gaps with protein, essential fatty acids and vitamins/ minerals then they may warrant consideration. If you are trying to directly increase performance with things like creatine, Nitric Oxide or something similar then you need to make sure that you have everything else dialed in before you should consider them. Even then you should be wary since the supplement industry is one of the most unscrupulous in the world. I know, I used to work as a fitness author and saw first hand how they develop the hype in the absence of results!