Sunday 18 February 2018

Competitive bodybuilding may be causing 'extraordinary damage' to Irish teenagers - expert

Dr Conor O’Brien of the Sports Surgery Clinic warned against websites that recommend substances such as creatine and even performance-enhancing drugs
Dr Conor O’Brien of the Sports Surgery Clinic warned against websites that recommend substances such as creatine and even performance-enhancing drugs

Meadhbh McGrath

Irish medical experts have warned that bodybuilding can cause "extraordinary damage" to young people's health if it is practiced incorrectly.

Doctors have urged young people to research bodybuilding and body conditioning before they undertake an extreme life change.

“People are exercising more frequently now but their endpoint is often the perfect body," Dr Conor O’Brien of the Sports Surgery Clinic told

"People have decided that the ‘perfect girl’ currently may be a Jennifer Aniston shape, whereas 50 years ago it was Marilyn Monroe

“It’s this cut image, and men are the same. Having a six-pack and having big muscles are very important."

He warned against websites that recommend substances such as creatine and even performance-enhancing drugs and said an excess of protein and other sports supplements should be avoided.

“It’s a portal of entry. Once you start dabbling in these areas, it opens up a whole vista. They may be starting off on a route that could end with an early death," he said.

“This is no longer just a sporting problem, this is a public health issue. We need to educate parents and teachers, we need to educate children in schools about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs and supplements.

“I think having an educational element in schools would have a hugely positive effect.”  

Competitive power-bodybuilder Mark Higgins (25) said he has seen many instances of competitors using performance-enhancing drugs.

“So many people competing in non-drug tested competitions in Ireland are taking steroids to enhance their performance. That’s what you are dealing with," the Limerick man said.

“The problem I have with that is young guys, who are coming into the gym, are looking at these enhanced guys and thinking that that is achievable naturally when it’s not."

Dr O'Brien said he is keen to emphasise that consistent exercise is essential, but that it must be performed properly.

“Weight training, whereby you use your own body weight for your resistance doing push-ups, sit-ups and chin-ups, has always been a very good model for exercise in the young," he said.

"If you’re doing push-ups and your body just fatigues then your body will stop and you won’t hurt yourself.

“But if you’re lifting a weight over your head and you get fatigued as a young person, you can do extraordinary damage,” he says.

He continued: “It’s always a great concern with those under 18 years of age that you can damage the growth plates. The ends of bone are where the bones grow from and they grow up until the age of 18, some grow up to age 23, but weight lifting can be very dangerous.

“Lifting heavy weights at that age, if you’re not supervised, can actually damage the growth plates.”

He added that because teenagers have a “younger skeleton”, there could also be damage to the joints, and mentioned research that indicates early weight lifting may be associated with the development of arthritis later in life.

Speaking about a daily diet, Dr O'Brien said those tempted to substitute their dinner with whey protein should instead consider a natural, high-protein meal.

“Protein shakes cause constipation, they cause dehydration, they cause a whole load of different things - you’d be far better off taking steak and eggs. Your body is conditioned to digest steak and eggs, it’s not really conditioned to digest a big load of whey protein," he said.

Consultant nutritionist Gaye Godkin further criticised the lack of protein coming from natural plant sources, as well as energy drinks.

“In theory, that kind of a diet is good if you have carbohydrates that are whole grains and whole food, and they’re getting lots of protein from plant sources, that’s okay. The problem is when they’re not doing it like that.

“There’s no place whatsoever for [energy drinks],” she added.

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