Teenagers explore the use of workout supplements

Drew Hoffmaster | The Chronicle

Graphics by Becca Hunter

Teens gulp down a fruit punch or blue raspberry flavored drink not knowing the true effects it has on their bodies.

According to the Center of Disease Control, 51.5% of teenagers in the United States spend time in the gym building strength and becoming fit for three or more days in a week. Exercising as a teen will decrease chances for heart disease, boost energy and increase muscle mass.

Some student athletes take pre-workout supplements or creatine, a natural substance used to improve exercise performance and muscle mass, to help make their time in the gym more worthwhile. Senior Lucas Lippeat is an avid gym-goer who has dabbled with both, discovering both positive and negative effects.

“[Pre-workout] is good for some people if you don’t really have much motivation or if you want a better pump,” Lippeat said. “Creatine really helps build up muscle but you need to drink a lot of water.”

Pre-workout is a drink mix containing 150 to 300 milliliters of caffeine per serving, equal to three cups of coffee, allowing athletes to have more energy to push weight. Lippeat was first introduced to pre-workout by some of his gym buddies and quickly got hooked noticing feeling like he could lift more. After a few months, he said he decided to quit, not liking the sense of false confidence it provided him.

“I didn’t want to be addicted to caffeine and just take [pre-workout] over and over again because a lot of people are, which is not good for a person’s health,” Lippeat said. “After I stopped, I felt groggy and bad, not being as motivated, but after a week it all went away.”

Creatine, a type of amino acid commonly sold in powder form, helps build muscle by drawing more water to muscle cells and boosting muscle fiber growth. Lippeat said he feels it is safe to take creatine, and he drinks five to ten grams of it in hot water in the morning.

“Creatine is not steroids,” Lippeat said. “It’s not gonna kill you. But you still have to take it seriously. There is the possibility it will harm your kidneys, so you have to be willing to drink tons of water.”

Honors Anatomy and Physiology teacher Maggie Long decided to educate herself about pre-workout and creatine after having multiple students come to her seeking information if they should use either in the gym.

“I have a lot of my Anatomy students that are going to the gym,” Long said. “I was like, ‘How can I put [pre-workout and creatine] information out for my students so they can make the logical choice?’ We talk about [supplements] when we learn about structure and functions of the body.”

According to Long, pre-workout and creatine are just like any other energy drink. She said supplements are not absolutely necessary, and students can get better results in the gym from having other foods.

“[Pre-workout] is just like drinking a Red Bull and that is way too much caffeine,” Long said. “Combined with the sugar, it may lead to heart palpitations and sugar crashes happening in the middle of your workout.”

Certified Youth Personal Trainer Amy Hershey works with many teens in the gym advising them on the best way to get stronger at Hershey Fitness, Raise the Bar in Mason. She said that she would never recommend either supplement to the students she trains because they may interfere with a person’s health and growth.

“I’ll encourage them to make healthy eating choices instead,” Hershey said. “It is more important to listen to their own bodies, eat lean proteins, healthy carbohydrates, drink lots of water and eat less sugary foods.”

Senior Hannah Ott started exercising at the gym as part of her rehabilitation after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) while playing soccer. She has been tempted by friends and family to take pre-workout and creatine, but she said she feels the risks of both are too high and they are not worth taking.

“Healthy habits will definitely take me way further than creatine or pre-workout,” Ott said. “I’ve definitely looked into them and thought about buying them, but my reason for working out isn’t to gain the most amount of muscle.”

Pre-workout and creatine can often cost from $30 to $60. Although Ott’s parents pay for her gym membership, she said she can not imagine how much more it would cost them if she bought pre-workout or creatine.

“Working out is already expensive with having to get a gym membership which you have to pay for monthly,” Ott said. “Adding on the cost of [pre-workout and creatine] will definitely affect you badly economically if you’re paying for it.”

According to the University of Rochester Medical, the human brain does not fully mature until a person is 25. Junior Luke Lu said he feels students are not paying enough attention to the fact that pre-workout and creatine are directly advertised to adults.

“As a young person, we need to be careful about the information that we learn about online because it is not entirely tailored to kids,” Lu said. “As a kid, you’re still growing and your metabolism is really high, which is what most teens should be focusing on.”

Students already get a lot of the vitamins and energy that pre-workout and creatine contain from other foods. Lu said that if students take pre-workout or creatine, they should be researching the full effects of the supplements before taking them.

“We are young, and our bodies are young,” Lu said. “[Creatine and pre-workout] has been through testing, but that does not mean you shouldn’t make sure it is safe for yourself.”

Lu feels the most important thing for a teen to focus on with working out is not pre-workout or creatine, but letting their body grow and get stronger. 

“You do not need to work out every single day of the week for two hours running on pre-workout,” Lu said. “Exercising should be for strength, adding weight and making progress, before even thinking about supplements.”