Editor’s note: This is the first of several articles regarding the use of this supplement in the Heber Springs athletic program.  Look to future articles in The Sun Times.

This past April parents discovered that their 16-year old son, who participates in the Heber Springs High School football program, was consuming a performance-enhancing supplement that his coach had provided. To protect the identity of the minor child in an on-going investigation, aliases have been used for this article.
    
“I’m a retired registered nurse and I know what this stuff does to your body,” stated Sami Harris, mother of the minor child. “I have always stressed to my kids that a well-balanced diet is all they need to have for their bodies to play sports. I cook for my family.”
    
Pointing to the label on the bottle she had confiscated from her son, Sami read, “Warnings: Do not use more than 4 total servings per day.... This product is only intended for use by healthy adults over the age of 18. Do not exceed recommended serving amounts or daily intake. Do not use this product if you…. have any pre-existing medical condition, or if you are taking any prescription or OTC medications. Discontinue use two weeks prior to surgery. This product contains caffeine. Do not use if you are caffeine sensitive. Keep out of the reach of children.”
    
Sami stated that neither she nor her husband had been informed by her son’s coach or the athletic director that they were pushing this product in their football training program. “They didn’t send home an authorization form with my son. They provided us no information on the product and what it’s supposed to do. Nothing.”
    
“Note, this product is only to be given to ‘healthy adults over the age of 18’?” Nate, Sami’s husband, interjected. “Our son was 15 when he started in the Heber Springs football program. He was healthy until he showed up with blood in his urine. My wife took him to the doctor to have him tested and he had over four times the normal amount of protein in his urine.”
    
“Our son told us that the coaches push this product as nothing more than a protein shake to help build muscles and give them an edge over their sport competitors,” said Sami. “They aren’t supposed to take more than the recommended amount, but you know kids, if this amount works they’ll just take more than what’s recommended.”
    
Superintendent Dr. Alan Stauffacher stated that he couldn’t discuss the Harris’s allegations because they concerned a minor student attending school in the district.
    
A review of several studies published in major medical journals confirm that the Harris’s should be concerned. A study, conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness, entitled, “Use of Performance-Enhancing Substances”, and published in the “Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics”, concludes that “Virtually no experimental research on either the ergogenic effects or adverse effects of performance-enhancing substances has been conducted in subjects younger than 18 years.” All the studies reviewed for this article state the same.
    
The rationale behind the AAP study consisted of three main points: 1) the use of any performance-enhancement product is competitively unfair, “and therefore morally and ethically indefensible.”; 2) performance-enhancements, including supplements, are not regulated by the FDA and could “pose a significant health risk…”; and, 3) including performance-enhancements in a sports program devalues the “principles of a balanced diet, good coaching, and sound physical training.”

The study summed up eleven recommendations by stating, “1. Use of performance-enhancing substances for athletic or other purposes should be strongly discouraged.” A copy of the AAP guidelines for parents, coaches, pediatricians and athletes can be downloaded from http://www.aap.org/family/sportsshort.htm.
    
A significant 2001 study of “ninety-five male football players and 407 female volleyball players from 20 high schools in Northwest Iowa” was conducted by “The Iowa Orthopaedic Journal” in which claims of several nutritional supplements were reviewed and researched. Most of the high school athletes studied admitted to taking supplements to enhance performance. The supplements that were reviewed include: creatine, androstiendione, HMB, amino acid complexes, DHEA, ginseng and phosphygen.
    
BCAA EnergyTM, a non-certified product manufactured by Evlution Nutrition, an online supplement store, is being promoted by the coaching staff of the Heber Springs school district. It is a branched-chained amino acid product that includes “Natural Caffeine”. The three main substances reviewed for this article were creatine (an amino acid), amino acid complexes, and caffeine. Creatine is a naturally occurring amine found in muscles and the brain, red meats and seafood, and can be synthetically manufactured. It is processed through the liver and kidneys to make energy for muscles. It is marketed as a performance-enhancement supplement with $2.7 billion in annual sales. Marketing claims state that it will improve exercise performance and help grow muscle mass. However, recent studies have shown that creatine was a performance detriment in aerobic exercising. Creatine also causes muscles to pull water from other parts of the body making hydration vital.

Body mass does increase with creatine supplementation, but the weight gain is not caused by lean muscle tissue and is thought to be primarily water weight. Rapid weight gain occurs with creatine, but it has been noted that a decrease in urine production is occurring simultaneously indicating a problem with water retention. Long-term, creatine supplementation health risks haven’t been determined to date.
    
Manufacturers of branch-chain amino acids (BCAA) claim that human growth hormone is released to enhance muscle growth, fix damaged muscles, decrease muscle fatigue and improve muscle function.
    
“The fact is that oral amino acid supplements do not increase growth hormone levels or muscle mass,” states the Iowa study article. Additionally, the study found that weight lifting and endurance training caused the same amount of growth hormone to be secreted as did supplementation with exercise.
    
BCAA supplementation use of six months or more has not been found to have many harmful side effects other than fatigue, loss of coordination, nausea, pain and headache. However, BCAA’s may adversely affect blood glucose levels during and after surgery and thus the reason to discontinue use two weeks prior to a procedure. There is also increased health hazards for those suffering from chronic alcoholism and maple sugar urine disease, a rare genetic deficiency in enzymes that metabolize amino acids causing seizures, coma, and brain damage if undiagnosed. It could be catastrophic if one unknowingly had this disease and engaged in branched-chain amino acid supplementation. The Banned Substance Control Group, a supplement testing lab company, states on their website, “Overuse may cause long-term damage to multiple organs.” (www.bscg.org/bcaa)
    
As stated above, BCAA EnergyTM also contains caffeine. The FDA recommends that healthy adults consume no more than 400mg/day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that adolescents not consume more than 100mg/day. Consuming too much caffeine, which is also found in coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, energy drinks and some over-the-counter medications, may cause nervousness, insomnia, restlessness, irritability, increased heart rate and blood pressure, nausea, frequent urination, anxiety, muscle tremors, and headaches.
    
Directions for the daily use of BCAA EnergyTM is two servings, which would be a total of 220mg of caffeine a day. Add to this soda and energy drinks consumed daily by adolescents. Directions to experience “Maximum Energy & BCAAs” is a daily intake of 3 servings or 330mg of caffeine daily. Users are also directed not to consume more than 4 servings in a day.
    
Young athletes, who idolize professional and collegiate sport star’s endorsements of performance-enhancing supplements and who are driven to compete at higher levels of performance by their coaches, will abuse the recommended usage directions. The studies reviewed for this article stated repeatedly that data determining the effectiveness and health risks for these products is extremely lacking. Medical organizations, professional dieticians, personal trainers and reputable sport organizations recommend that neither children nor high school athletes should use these products. Training programs that educate young athletes on the importance of a balanced diet and sleep as a restorative tool are repeatedly recommended and have been found to be superior to any programs that include performance-enhancing supplements.