Are boys putting themselves at risk in the battle to bulk up?
POWER GAME: Some young teens are overdosing on supplements that could be a danger to long-term health, says special report by Fiona Dillon
TEENAGE boys face the same pressures to 'bulk up' as their female classmates do to be skinny.
Experts are warning that boys are being drawn to supplements in a bid to build up muscle before their bodies are ready.
Nutritionist Sarah Keogh says that teens are at risk of causing long-term damage to tendons and ligaments.
"Certainly, you would see young boys who are playing a lot of rugby, and they want to bulk up, and physically it's just too early. Genetically, some boys will bulk up much sooner, but most don't, and that is just natural biology," she said.
"We don't know the health effects that supplements will have on a young body. In the same way, we don't want to be telling girls they have to be skinny, skinny, skinny, I think boys need to be told they don't need to be hugely muscled."
The nutritionist, said that she thought the approach by the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), which has issued advice to the under 18s not to use nutritional aids like creatine and protein supplements was "very sensible advice".
The IRFU has also said that protein supplements should not be recommended by schools, coaches, teachers, or others involved in the training of athletes.
The body said that often the desire to get physically bigger is the reason young people choose to take supplements, which they see as a quick fix answer for accelerated growth.
Sarah, who is a member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, said that younger people tend to be very focused on the supplements and protein powders. "And when you actually get to look at their basic diet, there's huge problems there, and they could do more actually by eating their protein properly in their food," she added.
The Irish Sports Council's anti-doping programme director, Dr Una May, told the Herald that the effects of taking these supplements on an underage person is not known.
"They are at an age where their bodies are developing very vast.
"If they are building up muscles at a disproportionate rate, then there is a huge risk of the tendons and the ligaments ripping and bone damage too," she said.
"Also connective tissue can be damaged."
She added: "The supplement industry isn't regulated in quite the same way as the medicines industry is and so the manufacturing regulations and labelling regulations are not as strong, even though they would be relatively good in Ireland.
"When they are buying off the internet , then it's outside of the control of the Irish regulation system."
Ruth Wood-Martin, the national performance nutritionist with the IRFU told the Herald that its leaflet, "Sports Supplement and The Young Rugby Player", containing its advice is being issued to all rugby affiliated schools, principals and rugby masters.
She said that the lack of information on possible side effects from sports supplements was a concern.
Ms Martin also pointed out that some may unknowingly take banned substances.
She said that in rugby, they had worked closely with the Irish Sports Council to develop an anti-doping programme, under which its under-18s are now tested for banned substances.
A young player being tested, could be putting themselves at risk of having a positive doping outcome. "That has happened across the water,but thankfully none in Ireland, and that, we aim to maintain," she added.