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Nathan Ganino, Should teenagers be taking over-the-counter sporting supplements?

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 09/07/2014
Reporter: Tracy Bowden

Four per cent of student athletes, some as young as 12, are taking banned performance-enhancing drugs and one in three are taking legal supplements, which could be expensive, ineffective, and harmful for teenagers according to experts.

Transcript SARAH FERGUSON, PRESENTER: Adolescent boys looking to beef up on the sporting field are turning to products they believe will provide a quick fix.

A study released today revealed one in three student athletes are taking supplements.

While the supplements business is booming, nutritionists warn that not only are they expensive and largely ineffective for teenagers, they could be harmful.

Tracy Bowden reports.

TRACY BOWDEN, REPORTER: Mates Conor Cleary and Nathan Ganino grew up near Wollongong, south of Sydney.

As teenagers they were both eager to bulk up, so they tried what promised to be “muscle in a glass”: sporting supplements.

CONOR CLEARY, ATHLETE: I started taking them around the late Year 8, Year 9 when you started to have that main growth spurt and you're looking into your own body image and how you can improve it. You're very impatient. You just… you want the results right there and then.

TRACY BOWDEN: Now in their 20s, they still take two of the most popular supplements, protein power and creatine, an organic acid said to enhance performance. But they can now see that, at 15, they overdid it.

CONOR CLEARY: Looking back, I was having too much and I didn't see the gains to what I probably would have expected.

NATHAN GANINO, ATHLETE: Unbelievable how many supplements now come out and they'll just put a sticker on it, make it look good, make it look colourful and then it's very attractive to people to want to buy.

TRACY BOWDEN: Across-the-counter sporting supplements are legal and they're readily available. With extra ingredients like amino acids and vitamins, those claiming to increase bulk are mostly protein-based.

JENNY O'DEA, NUTRITIONIST, UNI. OF SYDNEY: They're very fancy names for things like milk powder, dried milk powder, dried whey powder which is part of milk, different types of sugar, different types of flavouring, perhaps some dried egg.

(Jenny O'Dea addresses school classroom)

JENNY O'DEA: It's an image of what they're saying that men could buy. You could buy this image. You could buy this body…

TRACY BOWDEN: Nutritionist Jenny O'Dea is worried about the growing use of these products amongst teenagers. She studied more than 1,000 Year 10, 11 and 12 boys and found that as many as 25 per cent had used legal sporting supplements, including protein powder and creatine.

(Student reads out ingredients of sporting supplement)

STUDENT: Instant whey, protein concentrate…

JENNY O'DEA: They think it's going to burn away the fat, produce muscle overnight and that they're going to be very attractive to girls and unbeatable on the sports field. It's a big myth.

TRACY BOWDEN: And heavy doses of protein can be harmful.

JULIE GILBERT, DIETITIAN, SPORTS MEDICINE AUSTRALIA: We know high-protein diets do run the risk of finding more calcium in our urine, which does actually affect our bone mass. We also know that high-protein diets can actually have an effect on our kidneys.

So I don't think they're things that we want to play around with our teenagers who are still growing and developing.

PAUL DILLON, DRUG AND ALCOHOL EDUCATOR: We really don't have the evidence to say that these are safe products to use. Why in heavens would a parent think it is appropriate to provide them with protein powders and amino acids, whey powder - whatever it is - to make them bigger when, really, they actually haven't gone through their growth spurt at that stage?

(Andrew Hirst coaches Newington College rugby team)

ANDREW HIRST, DEPUTY HEADMASTER, NEWINGTON COLLEGE: In front. Little bit more depth, please! Little bit more depth! Come on!

We became concerned when two of our senior boys seemed to transform in body shape in a rapid period and it seemed very much that the parents were in denial and didn't want to engage in this delicate topic.

And it was at that basis that we decided we had to revisit and look at just what we were doing to promote a conversation about the use of supplements.

TEACHER: We've been really, really keen on looking at mental health and body image and in particular linking it up to supplement use.

TRACY BOWDEN: Newington College in Sydney has developed a class to explore the issue.

I'd like you to tell me what you see from those three images of those three men. Yes, Sam.

SAM, STUDENT: I see health.

STUDENT 2: I see that they're all well-defined.

STUDENT 3: I wonder if their bodies are natural or if they've taken any drugs or steroids to have the body that they have now.

(Andrew Hirst coaches Newington College rugby team)

ANDREW HIRST: Warm up, please, so we get it right. Okay, so righto, guys, so we've got…

Be absolutely naive to think there weren't and there still aren't boys that are being tempted to consider shortcuts and, hence, why we really do prohibit the use of supplements in the school.

TRACY BOWDEN: Do you understand why supplements have become so popular?

FINIAN CASEY, STUDENT: Well, yeah. Everyone just wants the easiest way to get that look. They don't really care how they get there and obviously protein supplements and shakes would be the quickest and easiest way to do it, even if it's not the healthiest.

TRACY BOWDEN: Is there a sense that girls will like you better if you look that way?

SAM MALEY, STUDENT: Yeah. Yeah. There's always the feeling that girls are after the guy with the biggest arms and the best abs and whatever.

MATTHIAS LAUBI, STUDENT: Social media is definitely a big part of it, especially adverts. A lot of ads on TV, especially: male models have six-packs.

MARCUS EESON, CYBORG SPORTS: The supplement industry is part of the health industry. We have no interest in illegal or dangerous drugs. It's just not what we do.

Hey, mate. So how's the Fusion going for you?

CUSTOMER: Mate, really well, still really well.

TRACY BOWDEN: Marcus Eeson runs a booming business making and supplying supplements to stores. The products promise to build muscle, improve recovery, increase endurance.

But under Government food standards they don't have to prove it. All that's required is an ingredient list and a warning that they're not to be taken by children under 15.

MARCUS EESON: The advantage of supplements is that they can give you a much more efficient and more effective way of taking specific things that will increase your performance that you just can't get out of eating your regular amounts.

(Jenny O'Dea addresses school classroom)

JENNY O'DEA: We've got milk powder, we've got milk powder and what have we got next?

STUDENT: Calcium. More milk.

TRACY BOWDEN: Nutritionist Jenny O'Dea disagrees.

JENNY O'DEA: The benefits are minute compared to training, genetic talent, rehydration, rest and repair.

PAUL DILLON: When you look at the range of products that they can access here…

TRACY BOWDEN: While there are controls over supplements sold in stores, alcohol and drug educator Paul Dillon warns that online it's a free-for-all. Products bought from overseas via the Internet could contain banned or dangerous substances like certain stimulants and steroids.

PAUL DILLON: It's a completely unregulated industry. We don't really know that what it says on the packet is actually in the products.

JULIE GILBERT: When it starts adding things like peptides or growth hormones or stimulants or different types of herbs or vitamins and they're not familiar names that you know and are common, then I would certainly be very wary and I would definitely stay clear of them.

We could still see the risk on kidneys. We could see that on our liver as failure and some of these stimulants may also have an effect on their hearts.

TRACY BOWDEN: There is now evidence that, for some adolescents, legal supplements are the first step towards much more dangerous products.

PAUL DILLON: I think for some young people who don't get the results they're after, they're going to look to other options, to alternatives. And the alternatives usually are products that we know are incredibly dangerous for adolescents and they are the steroid products.

It stunts their growth. There's a great deal of problems associated with adolescent use of those products. And we really want to try to prevent that for as long as we possibly can.

NATHAN GANINO: These young kids start abusing other substances because, you know, then they can't get that body: “Oh, I thought that supplement would get that body,” or, “That's not working. I'm going to go here, I'm going to go there.”

TRACY BOWDEN: Now both studying physical education, Conor Cleary and Nathan Ganino believe supplements can help recovery and training but warn they're not for teenagers.

NATHAN GANINO: I'd never tell a 13 year old to take protein shakes or do weights.


NATHAN GANINO: It's way too early.

SARAH FERGUSON: Tracy Bowden reporting.

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