You may want to check your kids’ backpacks. If he or she is a middle-school athlete, you might find some supplements instead of healthy snacks.

In a recent investigation into the prevalence of dietary supplement and sports food use in male and female middle-school-aged runners, researchers found that almost half the study participants used these products on two or more days a week during the prior year.

Characteristics associated with supplement use included a prior bone stress injury, following a vegetarian diet and behaviors suggesting dietary restrictions such as losing weight and skipping meals.

The study was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“The preadolescent years represent a crucial period of growth,” wrote lead author Michelle Barrack, registered dietitian with the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at CSU Long Beach.

“While previous studies have examined the use of dietary supplements in high school and college athletes, intake among preadolescent athletes was unknown.”

She emphazied the importance of ongoing data collection.

“It is important to evaluate this population due to the recognition of an elevated risk of low bone mineral density, bone stress injury, and inadequate intake of energy,” Barrack said. “Additionally, in some cases, dietary supplements have been associated with the development of adverse events in children and adolescents.”

Data were gathered from 2,113 middle school-aged cross-country runners who completed a survey on dietary supplement use and related factors. Dietary supplements included vitamin/mineral and nonvitamin/mineral products, and sports foods included energy bars, carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks, and protein bars or drinks.

The survey covered demographic information, weight, height, sports participation history, weekly exercise training, running performance times, dietary patterns, menstrual function, history of a clinical eating disorder, and injury history. Respondents were asked to indicate the type and frequency of supplements and sports food consumption over the last year.

Among the middle-school runners surveyed, 42.7% used either a dietary supplement or sport food on two or more days per week. Overall, 26.1% of runners reported using one or more dietary supplements, and 32.6% reported use of a sports food.

Girls reported higher use of multivitamins/minerals, vitamin D, calcium, iron, probiotics and diet pills. Boys reported higher use of creatine and sports food.

A higher proportion of runners with supplement use, compared to preadolescents with no supplement use, followed a vegetarian diet; were underweight; had one or more running-related injuries; met criteria for elevated dietary restraint; had a diagnosed eating disorder; or reported currently attempting to gain weight.

Supplement use was reported by 51% of runners who skipped meals and 77% of runners with weight loss in the past year. The findings support associations between higher supplement use and factors consistent with lower food intake or energy deficiency.

Researchers say this is the first study to observe the association in youth runners, and that the findings point to the need for teaching middle school runners about the importance of getting enough calories and not skipping meals.


Q: How do I break the sugar habit?

A: If you’re “hooked” on sugar, don’t try to eliminate all sugary foods at once. If you deny yourself even a single piece of candy or sliver of cake, you’ll only crave sweets more.

Instead, eat a healthy diet made up of more satisfying foods — whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy oils and lean protein. Steer yourself away from sugar and eat these foods, which are digested more slowly. They’ll help to even out your blood sugar and you won’t have spikes and crashes all the time.

The body naturally craves sweet foods because sugar is addictive. When it’s consumed, opioids and dopamine are released into the body, causing future cravings. In fact, although the daily recommended amount is no more than nine teaspoons of added sugar, Americans on average consume between 22 and 30 teaspoons each day.

Sugar is found in many foods, especially processed foods. Although natural sugar acts as an energy source for your body’s cells and is not harmful when consumed in moderation, an added sugar such as table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup can encourage your brain to desire unhealthy foods and to eat more, impacting weight and heart health and leading to chronic illness.

To curb cravings, consume naturally sweetened foods and foods high in fiber.

Walnut Cranberry Granola Bars

If you’ve got your next getaway planned, you might want to include time to go hiking. Here’s a recipe for a chewy granola bar to take along. It’s from California Walnuts.


» 3 cups old fashioned (rolled) oats

» 1 cup roughly chopped California walnuts

» ⅓ cup unsweetened or sweetened coconut flakes

» ¼ cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped

» 1 tablespoon brown sugar

» 1 teaspoon cinnamon

» 8 large Medjool dates, roughly chopped

» ⅓ cup honey

» 1 tablespoon coconut oil

» 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line an 11-by-7-inch baking dish with parchment paper. Stir together oats, walnuts, coconut, cranberries, brown sugar, cinnamon and dates in a large bowl. Add honey, coconut oil and vanilla extract and stir until combined.

Transfer mixture to a food processor and pulse until all ingredients are chopped and stick together when pressed between your fingers. Transfer to prepared baking dish and press down very firmly using a spatula or your hands. (Note: Covering mixture with a piece of parchment or plastic wrap and pressing down with your fingers makes this easier.)

Bake for 25 minutes, then let cool completely. Remove from pan and cut into 8 equal bars.


Serves 8

Per serving: 300 calories; 8 grams protein; 44 grams carbohydrates; 13 grams fat (4 grams saturated); 0 milligrams cholesterol; 5 grams fiber; 24 grams sugars; 0 milligrams sodium

— Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois. Contact her at, or follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd, or click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Charlyn Fargo Ware

Charlyn Fargo Ware

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois. Contact her at, and follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd. The opinions expressed are her own.