A pediatric dietitian and sports dietitian say that teens taking supplements to “gain bulk” are unwarranted and potentially dangerous.
My 15 year old son takes creatine and protein supplements as part of a “bulk and shred” bodybuilding program. How safe is it for teenagers?
Pediatric dietitian Lucy Upton says, “This is a dietary practice that we are seeing more and more, and studies have shown the use of protein shakes or powders in up to 35% of adolescents in the United States and 25 % in Australia – with probably similar figures in Great Britain.
“The scientific literature does not present strong evidence that these products are safe supplements for children and adolescents. The risk or implications of their use at this time are relatively unknown. While it may be possible to consider their use in certain groups of adolescents, there are also no clear guidelines on how they could be used safely in this group, with examples such as “Safe upper limits” or products nutritionally adapted to the unique needs of children and adolescents.
“From the perspective of a pediatric dietitian and sports dietitian, their use would not be recommended. Children and youth have unique nutritional needs compared to adults. Therefore, dietary practices like this, generally followed by adults, cannot simply be applied to children. Children go through periods of rapid growth and, at different ages, have increased needs for certain nutrients. Meeting these needs requires a carefully balanced and varied diet.
“Given the vulnerability of children and adolescents to the media, or the perceived pressures around body image, it is important to reflect on the reasons why young people engage in these eating practices. Is it only to influence athletic performance, or is body image or messy eating practices involved?
“Periods of excessive calorie consumption for ‘bloating’ followed by calorie restriction, as well as disproportionate consumption of certain nutrients such as protein, are likely to have an impact on the overall nutritional balance of young people,” at risk of missing other key nutrients.
“The safety and effectiveness of these supplements, especially during dietary modifications, are not well studied in children or adolescents and would not be recommended. The use of supplements and associated dietary practices could pose a risk to the physical, emotional and mental health of a child or adolescent.
“The use of dietary supplements for the sole purpose of improving the physical performance of adolescent athletes is unwarranted and can be dangerous. Professional advice should be sought if the adolescent displays obsessive or irrational attitudes about body image. It is important that they understand that body composition is only one element that contributes to athletic performance. Diet and training strategies designed exclusively to manipulate the physique, regardless of performance, should be avoided. ”
And sports dietitian Kerri Major, who is also a personal trainer and author of The Dietitian Kitchen, adds: “Children and adolescents, even those who are more active, are usually able to easily meet their daily protein needs with food. We always recommend a food-first approach, and it’s important to remember that dietary sources of protein offer additional nutrients that also contribute to the overall health of children and adolescents.
“Inappropriate or misjudged use of these supplements could theoretically have implications for mood, growth, hormones, and cardiovascular function.”