CHOC discuss sports supplements, also known as pre-workout supplements, for children and teens

Sports supplements are pills, powders, or drinks used to build muscle, lose weight or improve endurance. Sports supplements are also commonly known as pre-workout supplements or pre-workout.

The sports supplements market is booming, aiming to advertise to young athletes that they can safely improve their exercise and sports performance with their products. But most supplements for kids under 18 years are unregulated and can contain harmful ingredients.

Here, CHOC experts discuss the popular types of sports supplements and if they are safe for children and teens.  

Are sport supplements safe for children and teens?

It’s hard to know if sports supplements are safe because:

  • Long-term studies in children and teens haven’t been done.
  • Sports supplements may contain harmful drugs or additives not listed on the label.

If your child is considering taking a sports supplement, talk to your pediatrician first.

Are sports supplements checked for safety?

Sports supplements are considered dietary supplements. Dietary supplements are products taken by mouth to support the diet. Dietary supplements do not need U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval before they are sold. Companies that make supplements are supposed to follow the FDA’s current good manufacturing practices to ensure quality and safety of their product. However, this doesn’t always happen, and some supplements may contain drugs or additives not listed on the label.

If there is a problem with a supplement, the FDA will investigate it.

Do sports supplements work?

Most sports supplements claim to help athletes in some way. But research shows that only a few supplements have proven benefits for athletes.

What are the different kinds of sports supplements?

Many sports supplements are available. Common ones include:


Creatine is a substance made in the body and is involved in making energy for muscle contractions.

Man-made creatine is sold as a powder or pill and in energy bars and drink mixes. Studies show that it can help athletes who do sports that have short bursts of intense exercise with short recovery times (such as sprinting and powerlifting).

Even though creatine may have benefits, it can cause side effects such as:

  • Weight gain.
  • Joint stiffness.
  • Muscle cramping.
  • Nausea.
  • Headaches.

Few studies have looked at the long-term safety of creatine use by teens. Some research shows that it can harm the kidneys. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people younger than age 18 should not take it. 

Amino acid supplements

Amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, help build muscle. Amino acids used as supplements include glutathione, cysteine, arginine, leucine, glutamine and citrulline. They’re usually sold as a pill or powder.

Ads for amino acid supplements say they improve endurance, lower protein breakdown and reduce soreness from exercise. But most studies do not show benefits to taking amino acid supplements.

Some amino acid supplements may cause serious side effects. There aren’t enough long-term studies to know if these supplements are safe for kids and teens.

Protein supplements

Most protein supplements are made of the proteins casein and whey. The supplements usually come as powders that can be mixed with water, milk, milk substitute or other liquid.

Protein supplements are often advertised to build muscle. But most people get all the protein they need in their diet.

Learn more about protein powders for kids and teens.

A protein supplement may help someone who doesn’t get enough protein in their diet. This can happen:

  • During periods of rapid growth.
  • When first starting to work out.
  • When increasing the intensity of workouts.
  • When recovering from injury.
  • If they are vegetarian or vegan.

In general, protein supplements do not seem to cause serious side effects. In high doses, they can cause:

  • Thirst.
  • Bloating.
  • Cramps.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Tiredness.

As with other supplements, long-term studies in children and teens have not been done. Most doctors agree that it is best for kids and teens to get their protein from their diet.

Hear from a CHOC dietitian about how much protein your child needs.


There is some evidence that caffeine can boost sports performance. Caffeine is in many products, including energy drinks, soda, energy chews and pills.

Side effects vary from person to person but can include:

  • Headaches.
  • Irritability.
  • Nervousness.
  • Dehydration.
  • Stomach upset.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Racing heart.
  • Irregular heartbeat.

The long-term effects of caffeine on kids and teens aren’t known, so it’s best for them to avoid it.

Parents should look out for added caffeine in food items.

Vitamins and minerals

Young athletes who are eating healthy don’t need vitamin and mineral supplements. But there may be situations, such as special or restricted diets, that may require vitamin supplements. Talk with your healthcare provider about your diet to see if you need a supplement. Some supplements containing the mineral chromium claim to build muscle and reduce fat. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), these supplements don’t improve sports performance or build muscle.

How can parents help?

To get the most out of athletic training without using sports supplements, encourage your teen to:

  • Eat a healthy diet. A dietitian or nutritionist can help plan a diet that is best for your teen’s age, weight, and activities.
  • Train smart. A coach or fitness instructor can help your child with a training plan that includes both strength training and fitness training.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking.

Help kids and teens understand that:

  • Many of the claims that sports supplement companies make are not proven. The company’s goal is to sell more supplements, and their claims may be misleading.
  • Supplements are not regulated the way medicines are. So, they might contain unlisted ingredients that can cause serious health problems.
  • No one should use a sports supplement without talking to their doctor first.

We are excited to offer the Pfizer BioNTech pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for children and teens. To receive a vaccine, contact your CHOC primary care pediatrician to make an appointment.


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