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Supplements for Teenage Athletes: Do They Work and Are They Safe?

Supplements for Teenage Athletes: Do They Work and Are They Safe?

Many teenage athletes want to improve their performance, strength, and endurance in sports. Some of them may consider taking sports supplements to achieve their goals. But are sports supplements effective and safe for teenage athletes? What are the nutritional needs and guidelines for young athletes? In this article, we will answer these questions and more.

What are Sports Supplements?

Sports nutrition supplements are products that are designed to help athletes and fitness enthusiasts meet their nutritional needs or are designed to help athletes stay hydrated and replenish electrolytes lost during exercise. Sports supplements contain vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, or other substances to enhance athletic performance, health, or appearance. Some common examples of sports supplements are protein powders, creatine, caffeine, beta-alanine, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), and multivitamins. Sports drinks are popular supplements that help athletes stay hydrated and replenish electrolytes during and after intense physical activity. Sports supplements are designed to increase energy, improve performance before, during and after a workout, and speed up the recovery time after training. They can include:

  • Protein
  • Carbohydrate
  • Recovery
  • Testosterone boosters
  • Creatine

Sports supplements are considered an addition to an already healthy diet.

Efficacy of Supplements in Teenage Athletes

Teenage athletes' sports supplements effectiveness depends on the type, dosage, frequency, age, gender, body type, health, diet, workout routine, and the specific sport. The impact of these supplements varies.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), most sports supplements don't provide much benefit for teenagers who are athletes, and some can even be harmful or against the rules. The AAP recommends that teenage athletes focus on maintaining a well-balanced diet, staying properly hydrated, receiving good training, and getting enough rest rather than relying on supplements to enhance their performance.

Nutritional Needs of Teenage Athletes

Teenagers who participate in sports have different nutritional requirements than those who do not due to their developing bodies and high energy demands. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, teenage athletes need more calories, protein, carbohydrates, fluids, and certain vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, iron, and vitamin D, to help young athletes maintain their health and perform at their best. However, some general guidelines for teenage athletes:

Nutritional Needs of Teenage Athletes

1. Calories: Fueling Growth and Performance

Teenage athletes require a substantial calorie intake due to their active lifestyles. They typically need anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 calories daily depending on factors like activity level and energy expenditure. These calories should come from a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.

2. Protein: Building Blocks of Strength

Protein is vital for muscle development and recovery. Teenage athletes should aim for 0.8 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, depending on their sport and training regimen. Quality protein sources include eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, meat, poultry, fish, soy, beans, lentils, and nuts.

3. Carbohydrates: The Energy Source

Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for teenage athletes. They need approximately 5 to 10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day, depending on their sport and training intensity. Opt for complex and fiber-rich sources like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and low-fat dairy.

4. Hydration: Staying Fluid

Proper hydration is key to performance and well-being. Teenage athletes should aim for 2 to 3 liters of fluids daily, considering factors like sweat rate, climate, and sport. Water should be the go-to choice before, during, and after exercise. Sugary, caffeinated, or alcoholic beverages should be avoided. Sports drinks or electrolyte solutions may sometimes be necessary, especially for workouts lasting more than an hour or in hot and humid conditions.

5. Vitamins and Minerals: Supporting Growth and Immunity

Teenage athletes require a variety of vitamins and minerals to support their overall health. These nutrients are crucial in growth, development, immune function, and metabolism. Obtaining vitamins and minerals from a well-rounded diet is important rather than relying on supplements. Avoid excessive intake that exceeds recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) or tolerable upper intake levels (ULs).

Top Sports Supplements for Teenage Athletes

Most sports supplements are unnecessary and possibly dangerous for teenage athletes. However, a few supplements can be useful for those with specific dietary needs or medical issues. Here are some main supplements, their benefits, risks, and safety tips.

Top Sports Supplements for Teenage Athletes

1. Protein Supplements

These are products like protein powders, bars, shakes, or gels that contain protein or amino acids. They can help teenage athletes who don't get enough protein in their diet, are vegetarians or vegans, or need more protein for growth or muscle building. They can also aid in recovering from exercise and repairing muscles.

But remember, these supplements can't replace a healthy diet, and having too much protein can lead to problems like dehydration, kidney issues, or calcium loss.

  • Experts recommend that teenage athletes get their protein from food and not exceed 2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.

2. Caffeine Supplements

These contain caffeine, a stimulant in coffee, tea, energy drinks, and some medications. They could help teenage athletes in endurance sports like running, cycling, or swimming by increasing alertness, energy, and stamina. They also improve reaction time, concentration, and mood. Conversely, caffeine can cause jitteriness, nervousness, difficulty sleeping, headaches, and other adverse effects.

  • Experts recommend that adolescent athletes limit caffeine intake to 100mg/day, equivalent to one cup of coffee or two cans of soda.

3. Vitamin D

These contain vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin that helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus, essential for bone health and immune function. They can benefit teenage athletes who are deficient in vitamin D or have limited sun exposure, especially in winter or cloudy regions. They may also prevent stress fractures, infections, and inflammation.

However, vitamin D supplements can also cause toxicity if taken in excess, leading to nausea, vomiting, kidney problems, or calcium deposits in soft tissues.

  • Experts recommend that teenage athletes get their vitamin D from food sources like fatty fish, egg yolks, fortified milk, cereals, and moderate sun exposure. They should also have their blood levels checked regularly and follow their doctor’s advice on supplementation.

4. Omega 3

Omega 3 is a fatty acid with anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic properties. They can support brain and heart health, especially for teenage athletes who are vegan or vegetarian and do not consume enough omega-3 from plant sources like flaxseeds, walnuts, or soybeans. They may also improve mood, cognition, and memory.

Omega 3


However, omega-3 can cause side effects like fishy breath, burping, or stomach upset. Consult your doctor before taking omega-3 supplements if you have medical conditions or take medications.

  • Experts recommend that teenage athletes eat at least two servings of fatty fish per week, such as salmon, tuna, or sardines, and include plant sources of omega-3 in their diet.
Omega 3 


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5. BCAAs

BACCs are a type of amino acid that can prevent muscle breakdown and promote muscle synthesis, especially during intense or prolonged exercise. They may also reduce muscle soreness, fatigue, and recovery time.

However, BCAA supplements can also cause adverse effects like nausea, diarrhoea, or bloating. They can also interfere with the absorption of other amino acids and affect the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain.

  • Experts recommend that teenage athletes get their BCAAs from food sources like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, or soy, and be at most 20 grams per day. You should also drink plenty of water and avoid taking BCAAs on an empty stomach.

Guidelines and Some Tips

If you're a teenage athlete and thinking about using sports supplements, here are some simple tips to follow:

  1. Talk to your doctor, dietitian, or sports medicine expert first, especially if you have medical conditions or allergies or take any medications. They can assess your needs, evaluate risks and benefits, and monitor dosage, timing, and side effects.
  2. Talk to your doctor, dietitian, or sports medicine expert first, especially if you have medical conditions or allergies or take any medications. They can assess your needs, evaluate risks and benefits, and monitor dosage, timing, and side effects.
  3. Read the labels carefully, follow the directions, and don't take more than the recommended amount.
  4. Pay attention to how your body reacts to supplements. If you have bad side effects like allergies, nausea, vomiting, or headaches, stop using them.
  5. If something goes wrong or you have problems with a supplement, tell the FDA MedWatch program or the company that makes it.
  6. Remember, supplements aren't magic. They won't replace eating well, staying hydrated, training right, and getting enough rest. They might help a bit, but they can also be risky. So, use them carefully and with advice from a health professional.
Guidelines and Some Tips


Before we conclude the article, let's address some frequently asked questions:

1. Are Pre-workout Safe for Teenage Athletes, and Do They Work?

Pre-workout supplements contain caffeine, creatine, and other substances that enhance energy, focus, and muscle pumping before exercise. While they may help some teenage athletes improve their performance, they are not recommended for those under 18 due to potential side effects like jitteriness, insomnia, and high blood pressure.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests limiting caffeine intake to 100 mg daily. Parents, coaches, and athletes should understand the risks of using these supplements and consult a healthcare professional.


2. What is Creatine, and is it Safe for Teenage Athletes to Use?

Creatine is a natural muscle substance that provides energy for high-intensity activities and short-duration sports like sprinting, jumping, or weightlifting. Teenage athletes can take creatine supplements to improve muscle strength, power, and performance and to recover faster. However, these supplements are unsafe for anyone under 18 years old, and their long-term effects are unknown. Creatine supplements may also cause side effects like weight gain, bloating, and kidney damage.

  • Don't take creatine supplements without a doctor's prescription.

3. What are the differences between supplement use in teenage athletes and adult athletes?

Here’s a comparison table for supplement use in teenage athletes and adult athletes:

Teenage Athletes Adult Athletes
Nutritional needs Have different nutritional needs due to growth and development. Have stable nutritional needs.
Physiological responses Bodies may react differently to supplements due to ongoing growth and development. Bodies have a standard reaction to supplements.
Side effects or risks More susceptible to side effects or risks of supplements, such as growth retardation, hormonal imbalance, or organ damage. Less susceptible to certain side effects due to mature physiological development.
Knowledge, experience, or judgment May lack the knowledge, experience, or judgment to use supplements safely and responsibly. Generally have more knowledge and experience in using supplements.
Influences More influenced by marketing claims, peer pressure, or body image issues. Less likely to be influenced by external factors.
Awareness of regulations, testing procedures, or consequences of doping in sports May be less aware of these aspects. Generally more aware of these aspects.
Cautiousness and education about supplement use Should be more cautious and educated about supplement use. Generally more informed about supplement use.
Advice seeking Before taking any supplements, you should seek advice from health professionals, coaches, or parents. More likely to seek professional advice before taking supplements.


In conclusion, Supplements for Teenage Athletes are not a magic bullet or shortcut to success for young athletes. They may provide marginal benefits but also pose risks. Instead, teenage athletes should focus on a balanced diet, adequate hydration, proper training, and rest rather than relying on sports supplements to improve their performance. Remember, the best way to enhance athletic performance and health is through hard work, discipline, and a healthy lifestyle, not through a pill or powder.

Check out more useful information on STAAR LABS today!

Nemours KidsHealth (29/01/2021). Access date: 2023-12-05.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (29/05/2020). Access date: 2023-12-05.

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