Supplements in Sports – Understanding Supplements for Teenage Rugby Players

Whilst your coach and teammates may be talking about taking various supplements that promise increased muscle mass, strength, faster recovery… the list goes on, it is crucial to approach them with caution.

Some supplements can be beneficial and absolutely have a place however as a Sports Nutritionist, it is important for us to keep up with research and information about common supplements, their recommended doses, and the potential risks associated with their use. The aim is to support players and athletes to perform at their best, avoid injury and long-term issues. It is also vital to understand that every player position has different demands which influences their nutrition, training and as a result which supplements they may require (if any).

Creatine (Arginine and Glycine) is a popular supplement of choice for adolescent athletes. Creatine has been extensively researched and is well supported as one of the most effective dietary supplements available. There is overwhelming support within the literature regarding the ability of Creatine to enhance performance, both when taken for a short term and longer durations. There has not been any concern regarding its safety and minimal risk for adverse events, however, there is limited research of Creatine supplementation in adolescents.

Creatine is naturally occurring in animal proteins and increases intramuscular stores to improve exercise capacity and training adaptations. Creatine provides energy to muscles during short-term, high-intensity activities allowing for greater repetitions to be completed before becoming fatigued. Arginine supports better nutrient delivery while all amino acids work together to keep acidity down and reduce lactic acid build up. The concern is when muscle growth from resistance training leads to injuries alongside normal growth parameters of bones and joints.

The safest and most tolerated dose of Creatine Monohydrate (therefore the recommended dose) for teenagers is around 2-5 grams per day. It could be that the upper limit of 5g/d is consumed for a quicker loading but it is not recommended to follow the maximum Creatine loading protocol for adult men. This can lead to injury and put excessive stress on developing bones. Active muscles for growth and repair requires protein making the daily intake over meals an important consideration.

Protein is essential for building, maintaining, and repairing muscles. While whole foods such as eggs, dairy, meat, fish, chicken, pulses and whole-grains should be included in a well-rounded diet as your primary source of protein, protein supplements can be convenient in certain situations.

Both whey and casein protein come from milk. Whey is extracted from the water proteins whereas casein is from the curd. Whey protein is considered a popular choice among strength athletes due to its high biological value and quick absorption rate. It contains essential amino acids, including branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which aid muscle repair and growth.

Casein protein is often referred to as the ‘slow-digesting’ protein. It releases amino acids into the bloodstream more gradually than whey protein, making it suitable for periods of fasting, such as overnight.

The recommended dose suggests consuming 15-25 grams of whey protein within 30 minutes to an hour after a workout can support muscle recovery. Similarly, consuming a similar amount of casein protein before bed can aid muscle protein synthesis.

Caffeine is a stimulant commonly found in energy drinks and used as a performance enhancer. However, its effects can vary depending on the sport and individual response. Excessive caffeine intake can lead to negative side effects such as jitteriness, inability to focus, and increased cardiovascular stress. While a shot of coffee is safe, supplements including caffeine should be avoided.

Energy gels are concentrated sources of carbohydrates designed to provide quick calories during endurance exercise that lasts longer than an hour. They should be consumed with plenty of water to avoid dehydration. However, they may cause gastrointestinal stress, so it is important to trial them in advance. Eating starchy carbohydrates or well tolerated carbohydrate drinks are generally a better choice in sports lasting 60-90 minutes.

Magnesium is a supplement often used to relax the body and muscles; to reduce cramping, and aid sleep. It is generally well-tolerated but excessive intake can cause diarrhoea.

It can be seen that supplements can play a role in supporting athletic performance, but they should not replace a balanced diet. It is important to remember that supplements are not necessary for everyone; their effectiveness and safety may vary among individuals, especially teenagers. Before considering any supplements, please consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian/nutritionist to ensure they are suitable for your specific needs and goals. You can also check online to see how well-tailored various brands are, or better yet, ask a sports dietitian/nutritionist. Always prioritise whole food sources and a well-rounded diet for optimal nutrition and performance.

Stephanie Karl

Clinical Nutritionist

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