Performance Enhancing Substances

Performance enhancing substances can lead to an increase a person's physical abilities and stamina.

These drugs are taken for a variety of reasons:

  • build muscle mass
  • dull pain
  • lower stress
  • reduce weight

Abusing them can cause severe side effects.  Most drugs are available only by prescription, if at all. A great deal of controversy surrounds these drugs, and their use is a major concern among professional sporting associations worldwide.

The following is information about specific types of performance enhancing substances:

Dietary supplements

Many young athletes consider taking protein supplements or nucleic acid supplements (creatine) to help improve their sports performance; however, studies have not shown these supplements to be very helpful in enhancing sports performance in younger athletes. Also, protein supplements and creatine may actually decrease sports performance, especially in endurance sports (like running, cycling, or swimming) or sports with practices that last longer than 60 minutes. Supplements are not necessary if an athlete is eating a well-balanced diet.

Energy drinks and stimulants

Stimulants, including soft drinks with caffeine, are used by some young athletes to enhance sports performance. This category also includes energy drinks that contain taurine, caffeine, glucuronolactone, guarana, and ginseng. While athletes may gain a little boost in sports performance for a very short time, these products carry a major risk for increasing risk for heat-related illness, dehydration, and even heart problems. Using stimulants can also lead to decreased sports performance in endurance sports and in sports where fine motor coordination is important (muscle tremors and coordination problems).

Illegal stimulants (like methamphetamine) will cause a brief surge in sports performance but also carry major risks for heart and heat problems that could be fatal. Young athletes who take medicine for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder should very carefully monitor their fluid intake and how they respond to severe temperature and humidity conditions when exercising or competing. They also need to be very cautious when using energy drinks that contain stimulants.

Vitamins and minerals

Vitamin and mineral supplements are not necessary if an athlete is eating a well-balanced diet.

Specifically, supplements that contain chromium do not help athletes improve sports performance or muscle growth. This also applies to the wide variety of products that claim to improve performance. For young women, however, close attention to calcium, vitamin D, and iron intake is crucial for sports and overall health, and taking a multivitamin plus iron may be helpful in allowing athletes to play their best.

Anabolic steroids

Anabolic steroids are prescription drugs that are illegal to use to enhance sports performance. This category now includes the steroid building blocks that formerly were classified as dietary supplements (DHEA, androstenediol, and androstenedione). In young athletes these products will enhance muscle strength and mass but may stop growth in athletes who are still growing in height. Longterm problems with your heart, skin, and other organs can be severe and get worse with prolonged use, with use at younger ages, and with use of high doses of these drugs. Athletes need to know that anti-inflammatory steroids that are used for asthma and other conditions are in a different category of steroids and are safe and often necessary for young athletes.

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Last updated: 3/26/2020