Long before high school football teams take the field for the season openers, players have been in the gym getting their bodies into game shape. While many know how to pump iron, they might be taking risks with what they put in their bodies.
“The supplement industry is a $31 billion industry and it is highly unregulated,” said sports dietician Eve Pearson.
She helps athletes make the best decisions for their diet and nutrition to help them attain their ideal body and fitness. With high school athletes, she says many are pushed or pressured to take certain supplements that promise increased muscle mass, fat burn, and more energy.
“The message is you have to get more protein, so pills and powders start getting consumed and that is not necessarily the right thing to do.”
The benefits of those protein powders touting muscle gains can just as easily be had with real foods like peanuts and chocolate milk; a combination of protein, carbs, and healthy fat. But while many protein powders are Food and Drug Administration regulated and approved, the same cannot be said for other supplements.
Products with the label “nutrition facts” have been regulated by the FDA. However, energy boosters and other supplements with the label “supplement facts” are easily produced and marketed with very little oversight.
“It is so easy to start a supplement company,” said Pearson. “If I wanted to put a supplement on the market, I could do it in 30 days and be banking on it.”
Football coach Bob Wager at Arlington Martin in Texas said they always preach to their players proper nutrition through regular foods. Supplements are not part of the conversation.
“We start with the basics. We tell them to eat breakfast and to stay hydrated,” he said. “We stay as far away from the supplement game as we possibly can.”
The Texas Education Agency has a policy preventing coaches from marketing, promoting, or providing supplements to players, although Wager remembers a time early on in his career when that was not the case.
“There were boosters selling it, there were coaches providing it, and it was kind of like the wild, wild, west.”
Athletes are allowed to use the supplements on their own, and Wager said they will try their best to educate their players about possible health ramifications and making the right decision if someone approaches them about a particular supplement. However, that education never reaches the level of promoting or encouraging supplement use, according to Wager.
In her experience working with athletes, Pearson said there have been times when she has suggested supplements under the right circumstances.
“I am not totally against the supplement world,” she said. “We just have to know how to use it.”
Before using unregulated supplements, Pearson suggests looking for third party certifications on the label such as the “NSF Certified for Sport” seal. Such seals and certifications indicate the product has been tested by another agency, even if FDA regulation is not required.