The Medical Side of Sports: Tips for Responsible Supplement Usage

In the 1990s Major League Baseball was struggling. Attendances across the nation were down following the strike year of 1994, and while the game still hosted a bevy of superstars, it was hard to feel optimistic about the future of the national pastime. Then, in 1998 Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs captured the nation’s attention with a frenzied home-run race. The two battled all summer, smashing long-balls at a record-setting pace. And indeed, they eventually did set records. McGwire broke Roger Maris’ then three-decade old mark of 61 home runs in a season by crushing his 62nd home run in early September. For his part, Sosa eclipsed 60 home runs that season as well, though McGwire finished the season on top with an eye-catching 70.

In hindsight the season has become a symbol for the notorious “steroid era,” in MLB history. Years later, it came to light that both McGwire and Sosa had used performance-enhancing drugs during their career –– including the 1998 season. In addition, hundreds of other big-league stars from that time period either admitted to similar usage, or else were revealed to have used steroids by other means. As such, sports medicine truly entered the lexicon of the main-stream sports fan for the first time, and medical jargon became ubiquitous on terraces everywhere. You were just as likely to hear about serum separator tubes on Sports Center as you were any individual scoreline.

For better or worse, supplements for athletes have now entered the mainstream. Rather than a few select stars abusing performance-enhancing drugs, many individuals throughout the levels of professional and amateur sports have since admitted to using prohibited or illegal substances. And for aspiring athletes, and for the parents of young athletes, it can be difficult to know what’s safe to take –– and what could have major consequences down the line. With that in mind, today we’re going to examine several ways you can ensure that you make your health a priority when engaging in sporting activities.

Supplements are For Adults 

Children’s sports are becoming increasingly competitive, and as a result, dangerous. Sometimes athletes admit to abusing supplements while in high school or earlier, and even taking legal supplements at a young age isn’t a good idea. Developing minds and bodies are sensitive to chemical imbalances (children are not “little adults” when it comes to drug usage), and it’s highly irresponsible to allow (let alone encourage) your child to take athletic supplements while at a young age. Plain and simple, no competitive advantage should be worth risking long-term health for.

Consult with Your Doctor

Worried that a supplement recommendation you received from a friend might have some unwanted or unknown consequences? Don’t roll the dice with your well-being. Instead, speak to your doctor and ask their opinion before you put anything questionable into your body. Also, don’t automatically assume that because a supplement isn’t administered through a syringe that it isn’t potentially harmful or illegal. No matter how long you’ve been around sports and sports medicine, don’t make a hasty decision that you may regret without consulting a medical professional.

Abusing Legal Supplements 

The truth is, there are a number of dietary, weight-loss, and weight-gain supplements that are sold over-the-counter in a legal fashion. However, even these FDA-approved supplements aren’t to be taken lightly. Indeed, misusing and abusing supplement portions and recommended doses could prove just as detrimental to your health as using an illegal substance. Don’t ever take more than what’s recommended by a professional, and make sure to do your homework on everything you put into your system. Just because you can use it, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

Risks Associated with Supplement Abuse

In the wake of the steroid era, a number of articles were published cataloging the many detrimental effects of steroid use, both in the short and long-term. Anabolic steroids are safe when used appropriately. However, as with the case of high-profile professional athletes throughout the 1980s and 90s, that simply wasn’t the case. Unfortunately, it’s not a straightforward task to list the potentially dangerous elements to misusing supplements, because 1) there are a myriad of supplements both legal and illegal on the market and 2) no two people share the same physiology. In the worst case scenarios, steroids have been linked with paranoia, stroke, heart attacks, and even to death after periods of long use. Furthermore, many class steroids as an addictive substance, and note how many former athletes and professionals developed a dependence on the drug.

The Case for Drug-Free Sportsmanship 

There will always be a place for medicine within the wide sports universe. After all, even the lowest-impact activities still carry some risk of injury. However, despite the recent fervor about PEDs and so-called “magic pills,” designed to help you lose weight, gain muscle, burn fat, and bounce back –– there’s still a case to be made for natural, organic methods. It’s not surprising that supplements that promise the world often fall short in delivering the goods. Rather, old-fashioned methods of diet and exercise still provide the most reliable training best practices. It might not be flashy, but eating your fruits and vegetables in addition to rigorous but reasonable workouts will still produce amazing results.

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