Supplements & Steroids: Body Wars!
Trent Wilson, 14, of Jackson, Missouri, wanted to bulk up for football season. His coach's advice: creatine, a "natural" dietary supplement sold over the counter that claims to give you rippling muscles and extra energy. "I noticed results immediately," says Trent. "The muscles in my calves, biceps, and forearms got bigger."
No one knows how many teen athletes are sampling dietary supplements. Creatine, the latest supplement rage, is an amino acid (a chemical compound the body needs to make protein) stored in muscle tissue. Creatine replenishes a compound called adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP), the source of energy that muscles burn during sports activity. Some studies show that higher creatine levels in the body produce a short-term energy boost during workout. But little is known about the supplement's long-term effects.
Androstenedione is a hormone — a substance that regulates body functions, including teen growth. During vigorous exercise andro converts into the male sex hormone testosterone, which is responsible for building muscle mass. Lab-made versions of testosterone known as anabolic steroids are banned by all sports associations. (Major League Baseball will ban andro next year.)
"We don't have enough information to know if andro increases testosterone or builds muscle tissue," Yesalis says. But studies show that high doses of testosterone could cause heart and liver damage, and stunt bone growth in teens. "Andro is not a vitamin," Yesalis says. "It's a drug!"
A study Yesalis conducted in 1997 found that among 9th to 12th graders, about 375,000 males and 175,000 females have tried anabolic steroids at least once. Why? The win-at-all-costs attitude among coaches and athletes translates into dangerous use of supplements, says Yesalis: "We need to give kids the clear message that using drugs for sports — or any other reason — is wrong. Instead, kids hear, 'Get your ball, bat, glove, and drugs.' It's a dangerous message."