Teens and performance-enhancing substances. By S.C. Torrington
“Whether it’s playing sports or striving to do well in school, our youth are under tremendous pressure to become winners and to become bigger, stronger, and faster,” says Mike Gimbel. “Oftentimes, this means using a supplement to get there.”
Gimbel is director of Powered by ME!, an outreach program at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson that provides information about anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances to teens, coaches, parents, physicians, and teachers.
Begun in 2007, Powered by ME! was a response to the increasing number of professional athletes being exposed for using some type of performance-enhancing drug, Gimbel says.
“Between the athletes sending a bad message to our youth, and the media advertising their products on television and in all the sports magazines, much like the alcohol industry, it does have an impact—and it’s not a good one,” he adds.
Energy vs. Replenishment
It’s easy for many parents to disregard warnings about the supplements in popular, widely available energy drinks. After all, these products are sold over the counter, and there is no age restriction for purchasing them.
However, Gimbel warns that many students who go on to use heavier performance-enhancing substances often begin with their least dangerous forms.
According to a 2006 study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 6 percent of high school seniors use anabolic steroids. But, many elementary school-age children begin using energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster, or Rockstar for a quick boost of energy and to enhance their performance in school or in sports.
What most people do not realize is that energy drinks are not sports drinks (also known as replenishment drinks, such as Gatorade) and can be dangerous for young children.
In addition to high levels of caffeine and sugar, most of these energy drinks include the diet supplements guarana, taurine, and yerba mate, which are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And, rather than replenish, energy drinks dehydrate the body’s fluids.
Gimbel recounts how in Baltimore County, the Red Bull truck used to show up at high school athletic events, giving out free samples. In spring 2008, it visited baseball practice at one local high school where Ron Belinko, coordinator of the Baltimore County Public Schools Athletic Association, happened to be that afternoon. Subsequently, Belinko sent a memo to all Baltimore County high school athletic directors, ending future visits by the Red Bull truck due to concern over how this type of product affects kids.
Instead of energy drinks, the health experts at Powered by ME! recommend athletes drink water to hydrate and use a replenishment drink after they’ve played a sport for 30 minutes or longer.
Up the Supplement Ladder
Gimbel believes using an energy drink can potentially lead a young athlete to want a more powerful feeling and, therefore, to use a more dangerous supplement.
“Currently, we’re seeing an increase in the use of the Attention Deficit Disorder medication Adderall in combination with energy drinks,” says Gimbel. “Using Adderall if you don’t have ADD will act as a stimulant. Using it in combination with energy drinks gives a powerful boost that increases heart rate and blood pressure.”
Eventually, some of these young athletes will climb the ladder of supplement use to substances such as creatine (an organic acid that helps supply energy to muscles), protein powders, and other products available at health food stores. Gimbel notes that while legal, many of these supplements are not regulated by the FDA and can be dangerous if misused. For instance, the Mayo Clinic published warnings stating that side effects of creatine can include weight gain, nausea, and muscle cramps, with high doses having the potential to harm the kidneys.
According to the Powered by ME! website, “very few studies have evaluated the short- and long-term effects of creatine usage in people younger than 18 years old,” and the “American Academy of Sports Medicine suggests that people younger than 18 years old should not be using creatine.”
The advice from Powered by ME! is to not use any supplement without first consulting a coach, dietician, or physician.
Gimbel says that adults can play a critical role in teaching young people that it’s important to play their sport safely, fairly, and soberly. This includes emphasizing the importance of taking good care of their bodies and minds, not cheating by taking performance-enhancing drugs, and being a good, honest teammate by playing their sport drug- and alcohol-free.
“That old expression, ‘It’s not if you win or lose, but how you play the game,’ has been forgotten and needs to be reinforced by parents,” says Gimbel. “All adults need to keep a proper perspective on sports and encourage fair play and fun. Most important, we need to teach our youth that losing is part of life, and you can learn as much from losing as you can by winning.” BC
Contact Powered by ME!
Do you have questions regarding anabolic steroids or performance-enhancing supplements? Contact Powered by ME! by calling 410-337-1477, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Or, visit its website, www.poweredbymemd.org.
To request an educational presentation by Powered by ME! for students, teachers, or coaches, contact Mike Gimbel at 410-337-1477 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Powered by ME!, at St. Joseph Medical Center, 7601 Osler Dr., Towson, was created in partnership with the Maryland PTA, the Maryland Commission for Women, the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, Ripken Baseball, and other community organizations.
© Baltimore’s Child Inc. August 2009