Jameson Brock is a college athlete and an aspiring personal trainer.
As such, he works out regularly, intensely and with a heightened awareness of what goes into his body.
For the most part, that’s water, sports drinks, healthy whole foods — and little to no sports supplements.
Preferring a natural path to peak performance, he eschews — with few exceptions — the vast array of pre- and post-workout supplements that promise everything from muscle mass to weight loss to endurance boosts to strength gains.
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He doesn’t trust most of it, and quite a bit of it isn’t permitted at Franklin College, anyway, where he plays football and baseball.
“I don’t really take many supplements, just because of the regulations they have here with the bans and (drug) testing and whatnot,” Brock said. “So I’m more of just a straightforward kind of guy.
“I pretty much stay clean.”
When it comes to supplements, that’s precisely the approach most strength and conditioning and nutrition experts recommend, particularly for high school and college athletes.
Kids who want to get a jump on the competition don’t need to indulge in the array of performance-enhancing products that litter the shelves of fitness shops and health food stores. They can get all of the nutrition they need through proper diet and hydration.
With few exceptions, experts do not recommend supplements — such as creatine or nitric oxide or amino acid tablets — for high school athletes. And they endorse only a few products, such as certain protein powders and recovery shakes, for college athletes.
Because for the most part, athletes can get all their nutritional benefits met by eating the right foods, staying hydrated and maintaining disciplined approach to strength and conditioning training.
“I generally don’t recommend any kind of supplement under the age of 18, unless it’s just like a simple whey protein powder, which is fine,” said Linsday Langford, a sports dietician at the St. Vincent Sports Performance Center. “But anything other than that, like a true ergogenic aid like creatine of caffeine supplements or nitric oxide, I don’t recommend that at all to individuals under the age of 18.
“There’s not enough research to validate safety there, plus any minor’s going to have natural hormone elevation to take advantage of through nutrition in whole foods.”
Marty Mills, the strength and conditioning coach at Center Grove High School, agrees. He stresses nutrition and warns against anything other than protein shakes and protein bars, which can aid in recovery after workouts.
“I don’t recommend any supplements of any kind except protein bars and protein shakes,” Mills said. “We recommend eating meals with whole foods five to six times a day and staying away from processed foods and refined sugar.
“We focus on eating real food with proper hydration. I recommend eating a protein bar or drinking a shake as a ‘supplement’ if healthy whole foods are not available, or if it’s simply more convenient.”
Jeremy Hartman, the strength and conditioning coach at Franklin Community High School, offers the same advice to his students. Nothing trumps a healthy diet.
Without it, there is nothing to supplement.
“It’s got to come from food first. Protein, carbs, simple basic stuff that hasn’t changed,” Hartman said. “If they don’t have that baseline, what is there to supplement? Nothing.
“They have to have that basic nutrition guideline before you supplement anything else.”
Apart from dubious claims of performance benefits, sports supplements are only loosely regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which calls their safety into question.
Although many of the most popular supplements on the market, such as whey and other forms of powdered protein, and creatine and certain vitamins, have been proven safe and are regularly used by athletes, other products are more suspect.
That’s why Franklin College doesn’t permit most of them. Athletes are not permitted to take any supplements without prior approval from the school’s athletics trainer, Chris Shaff.
Matt Theobald, Franklin’s strength and conditioning coach, frowns on most supplements, anyway.
He recommends a much simpler, and cheaper, path to peak performance.
“Here at Franklin College, we cannot condone or endorse the use of any supplements,” Theobald said. “We tell our athletes, eat a banana and drink 12 ounces of water before you workout. Post-workout, the best post-workout supplement you can take is chocolate milk.”
Bananas and chocolate milk are not only cheaper than many of the pricey, caffeine-laced supplements, Theobald insists they provide more of the best nutrients the body needs for performance and recovery — and actually stay in the body longer.
“Ninety percent of (supplements), you’re just going to (urinate) out,” Theobald said. “To us, you’re just peeing your money down the drain. Everything you need is over at the cafeteria, that you’re already paying for. (Athletes) see a lot of this pre- and post-workout stuff and think that’s going to help them. A lot if it is just the mental aspect.
“They’re usually loaded with caffeine. They’re unregulated. They don’t realize that there might be some stuff in there that can hurt them along the way.”
Hartman agrees that part of the allure of supplements is psychological: If you take them, you’ll get gains.
He cautions against that belief.
“If you drink a cup of coffee before you workout, it’s going to have the same effect on you,” Hartman said. “It’s just kids feel a little bit different (if they take a supplement). They’re like, ‘Oh, I had pre-workout stuff, and it’s really helping out.’
“I think the motivation should come from internally on that.”
Although experts are discerning about supplement use among athletes, they do not dismiss supplements altogether.
Langford at St. Vincent is OK with high school athletes consuming simple whey protein powder after a workout, and in some instances recommends creatine and select other supplements to older athletes.
“I do use (creatine) successfully for some of our college and professional athletes,” Langford said. “It can help to increase muscle mass, help with recovery, increase speed and fast bursts. So creatine is one that I do believe does have some benefits, and that’s one of the few.
“We’re looking at how can we improve performance based on nutrition, and then supplements. Supplements are meant to supplement your diet, not replace.”
“Your body has it in there already,” he said. “Eat a good, balanced diet, stay properly hydrated, eat a banana right before you workout, drink your chocolate milk after you work out, and you’re doing the right thing.
“The body will rebuild itself.”
So far, it’s worked for Brock.
“I’ll take a little protein here and there after a workout,” he said. “But I just kind of stay clean for the most part.”
A look at some of the most commonly used sports supplements.
Whey protein: Commonly consumed in a protein shake, whey protein is often taken after a workout to reduce muscle damage and promote muscle growth.
Creatine: One of the most popular products, creatine supplements the body’s natural creatine stores. It helps increase muscle mass and muscle energy, aids in post-workout recovery and increases strength bursts.
Nitric oxide: Commonly used in pre-workout formulas to boost muscle pumps and performance during exercise.
Hydroxymethyl butyrate (HMB): An amino acid produced naturally in the body that is believed to enhance and strengthen muscle and slow down the breakdown of muscle during exercise.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA): Popular with bodybuilders, it is believed to help reduce fat deposits.
SOURCES: Nutrition Express, Healthline, Webmd.com