Athletes, Docs, personal trainers weigh in on supplement use

Ross McGee pumping iron at the weight room at Central HS.

Ross McGee pumping iron at the weight room at Central HS.

From muscle milk to protein shakes and supplements in bar form, there are several ways an athlete can boost their potential in a weight room.

Ross McGee likes to drink two protein shakes a day, one before his workout and one after.

McGee, a senior at Central High School, has spent the past four years lifting weights to get bigger and stronger to compete on the football field.

Along the way McGee helped boost his workouts with protein supplements.

“I use powder and I usually just mix it up with orange juice or something,” McGee said.

“There are no bad effects with it, it just helps you a lot.”

McGee’s father, Central head football coach Vern McGee, said he encouraged Ross and the rest of his players to make sure they got enough protein.

“We used to bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for them after lifting,” Vern McGee said. “So we just (went) the protein aspect, and one kids said he was able to put on 10 pounds while we were doing that. Then once we stopped, he went back to where he was.”

Ross McGee said by his efforts in the weight room along with taking protein, he was able to add 40 pounds to his bench press in one summer.

“I never gained too much weight but I was able to see increases in my max weights and reps,” McGee said. “But you can’t just take protein and get big. I was in the weight room twice a day four to five times a week.”

McGee is not alone. Protein and other supplements are taken by athletes to try to keep up with, or get ahead of, opponents.

Dr. Michael Reeder hears it all the time.

Reeder, a sports physician at Rocky Mountain Orthopaedic Associates who works with young athletes, said the questions always comes up.

“Should I take supplements to get bigger, faster and stronger?”

In almost every case, Reeder’s answer is no.

“Really, there is not a lot of information that a lot of this stuff works,” Reeder said. “I am not saying all supplements don’t work, but I can tell you a lot of them haven’t been proven to work, despite what the marketing might have said.”

Reeder stresses eating right, getting enough sleep and having a good workout regimen instead of supplements.

“The main thing I tell kids when they bring it up to me is, you need to work out hard, you need to sleep and eat well. That is the key to this whole thing,” Reeder said. “The amount of results you will get from a supplement will be miniscule compared to those three things.”

Reeder said protein supplements are the hot topics with young athletes.

Protein traditionally comes in a powder form that is mixed into drinks but it also can be taken in bar form or ready-made drinks. Reeder said Americans usually get enough protein in their diets, so to add on would almost be overkill.

“Most Americans get enough protein in their regular diet, unless they were trying to avoid protein,” Reeder said. “But if you’re working out really hard and you take a protein shake three times a week, it probably won’t hurt you.”

Others recommend protein shakes for athletes.

James Wilson is a personal trainer and the owner of Elite Training Solutions. He said protein shakes are a good solution to filling in the gaps between meals. Wilson trains several high school athletes in the valley and said he encourages them to drink protein shakes.

“You don’t want a kid eating nothing but protein shakes and they don’t need those products that combine protein with other supplements,” Wilson said. “But using a pure whey protein supplement to mix in with fruit and milk can’t hurt them. I encourage the kids I work with to get one or two of those a day to fill in the gaps between meals with something other than junk.”

Trevor Wikre played football at Mesa State College and said he began taking protein and other supplements in high school.

“There were a lot of meats and pastas that I didn’t have the time to eat, and if you look at an athlete when they are in season they should almost eat double the amount that a normal person should eat,” Wikre said. “You drop weight so easy when you are in camp that you have to eat double just to stay replenished with everything. I had to take supplements all the way through college because I was just so tired all the time.”

Wikre is helping the Mavericks this offseason in the weight room and said when advising current players on supplements, he recommends protein and carbohydrate drinks.

“We have the players take more of the protein and carb drinks because those are the two things that they are missing out on,” Wikre said.

Creatine is a supplement that is widely debated. The over-the-counter supplement is supposed to increase strength and performance when exercising. Some of the side effects listed by the National Institute of Health are cramps, muscle breakdown, heat intolerance and electrolyte imbalance.

Both Reeder and Wilson discourage young athletes from taking creatine.

“Creatine is an amino acid. You can measure your creatine level right now,” Reeder said.

“There have been at least 100 studies done on creatine, and a lot of them are not very good.

“If you were to break down creatine and say who would it work the best for, there are some studies that show that for real short-term bursts of energy, some people might get some benefit,” Reeder said.

“But that is a big ‘might’ in there. Otherwise, for runners, long-term cyclists or even basketball players, there is no evidence that you get benefit from it.”

Reeder also touched on the issue that creatine helps an athlete gain weight.

“When you first take creatine you gain weight, because it helps you absorb water, so a lot it is water weight,” Reeder said.

Wilson has done research into supplements and said he hasn’t seen many good results from creatine.

“It is one of those supplements that won’t hurt you but its effects, both good and bad, have been greatly exaggerated,” Wilson said. “Most kids simply won’t see much from it, making it a waste of time in my book, so I don’t use it or recommend it.”

Vern McGee said he addresses creatine before the season begins.

“I tell the parents that we don’t endorse any type of creatine, all of that has to go through (the parents),” McGee said. “If they want their son to use it, they have to look after it.”

Ross McGee said he was discouraged from taking creatine, but teammate Jaron Sparks said he uses creatine and feels positive about the supplement.

“It gives me a lot more energy and power when I am lifting,” Sparks said. “But you have to be smart about how much you are taking. I only take like a teaspoon in my Gatorade, but for me it lasts a long time and I can feel it.”

Robbie Owens, the football coach at Grand Junction High School, talked during the season about how his team needed to get bigger, faster and stronger if the Tigers wanted to compete with the Denver-area Class 5A schools.

As the Tigers enter the offseason conditioning program, is Owens suggesting supplements to his players?

“I have had players come to me saying they want to gain weight or they want to get bigger, and they ask me if there is something they should take,” Owens said.

“I always go back to get in the weight room and we will do it there. We have the approach of if you eat right and train right, you don’t need that other stuff, especially for high school kids that are at home getting three good meals a day.”


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