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Athletic Support: Should my son take supplements?

Dear Athletic Support: My son will be a sophomore on the high school football team next year. This winter he’s going through his first-ever varsity offseason training program. As a mother, I worry about his health. He hasn’t fully grown into his body like a lot of the other boys, but all the coaches keep telling him to gain weight and get stronger. This has led my son to start taking different supplements. Mainly it’s just creatine and a whey protein mix. Are there any downsides to these supplements? — Working It Out.

Dear Working It Out: I was a long-legged, gangly teenager for most of my high school football career. I was constantly urged by coaches to “put on more weight.” I remember thinking if I could just get up to 190 pounds, man, I’d be set.

Mainly, I stuck with natural weight-gaining methods. One coach told me to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich along with every meal, so I did.

A few weeks later, I went to the doctor only to find that my triglycerides were up!

Next, I tried whey protein. I remember not liking the taste of it much at all. My dad would mix these heaping shakes together with milk and ice cream, adding a cup of the protein to top it off—but I still didn’t really like it. I kept drinking them, though, and by my senior year in high school I had finally topped out at 190 pounds.

Creatine, on the other hand, is a touchy subject in the world of athletics. There are all sorts of myths swirling around on the internet about what it is and what it isn’t. So let me try and explain this as simply as possible.

Creatine is a compound found naturally in your muscles. It is released during intense exercise, providing an extra boost of energy. It can also help with muscle recovery. Creatine most-commonly comes in powder form and can be taken with water or juice.

I experimented with creatine last summer. During my playing days, I was always afraid of taking anything that might negatively impact my game, but since I hung up the cleats years ago, I figured I’d give it a try.

I saw results in my body composition in under two weeks. I also noticed strength gains. After a month on creatine, I was in the best-looking shape of my life, but I didn’t feel all that great.

I was sore all the time. Like my muscles had sand in them. I did gain ten pounds of what seemed to be muscle, but I felt slower. I was told to constantly drink water while taking creatine — which I did — but this just made me feel even more sluggish, almost waterlogged.

Long story short, I’m glad I didn’t take creatine during my playing days. Sure, I might have looked like a million bucks, but I don’t think the extra weight and strength would have translated to the field.

The thing parents and coaches should remember is that we’re talking about young athletes here, some of whom are not fully matured. Ask any adult, fighting like crazy to keep his/her winter weight down — there will soon come a day when gaining weight is easy!

Eli Cranor is a former professional quarterback and coach turned award-winning author. Send questions for “Athletic Support” to or visit

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