Schools beef up health courses

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:18 AM ET

Exercise and diet are not enough for today's young athlete. An increasing number of teens are turning to sports supplements and stimulants -- and occasionally steroids -- to build their bodies. But at what cost? Sun writer Randy Sportak examines this trend in a special six-part series.

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Sam Stambene's approach is simple.

He just talks about his personal history.

Stambene teaches biomechanics -- a fitness/nutrition course -- at St. Francis high school and uses his own experience to provide an anti-steroid/supplement message.

He tells of a high-school tailback, all of

170 lb., hoping to make the jump to the college ranks and feeling the pressure to become bigger and stronger.

He needed to make a critical decision.

Years later, he realizes he made the right choice.

"I looked very serious into taking steroids but, before I did, I talked to a doctor and he told me to research what could happen. That's when I said, 'Whoa, it's not worth it,' " Stambene says.

"I saw what guys were doing and what they've turned into and, right now, I'm thankful

I didn't do it."

Do his lectures work?

"I think so," said Stambene, who coaches football and track.

"What's happened is kids are educated before we see them. A lot of it has come from their parents about the effects. It's touched on in the media and through phys-ed.

"Kids are smarter these days."

But that doesn't mean some teens aren't turning their bodies into Molotov cocktails with dangerous concoctions of steroids, supplements and stimulants.

Which is why the education system continues to hit them with the messages of proper diets instead of quick fixes from steroids, creatine, protein powders and stimulants such as ephedra and caffeine.

"We're in the business of education, so our position is to teach a balanced diet and healthy living," said Dwayne Sheehan, physical education and athletic specialist with the Calgary Senior High School Athletic Association.

Alberta's physical education curriculum, implemented in September 2000, includes a unit body image for all grades.

Starting in Grade 7, the subject of steroids and their effects is broached. Available are videos geared for Grade 8 and 9 students -- Sports, Drugs and You -- as well as one for high schoolers, entitled Steroids: Bulking Up Can Kill. Phys-ed is a core subject through

Grade 10. However, Sheehan says discussions about the dangers are also incorporated into health and sports-medicine classes.

Stambene -- whose program deals with nutrition, anatomy, bone development and fitness through weightlifting and cross-training -- said he spent a couple of classes talking to students about steroids, supplements and stimulants.

"How many opportunities can a science teacher tell their kids about the dangers of steroids?" he said. "I always ask my kids what are the reasons they play sports and they say for the love of the game and health benefits. After that, I'll ask, 'Then why would you put something foreign, and possibly dangerous, in your body?'

"The best thing I've found is to give them the bait, say, 'Here's $100,000 or $200,000. Would you do steroids?' You'd be surprised how many say no. Once in a while, you'll get a kid who says they would, so you ask them, 'OK, but at age 35, you have cancer. What do you do now?' It makes them think."

Stambene, who delves into the negative effects of human growth hormones and blood doping, even relays his opposition to creatine and protein powders.

"They'll ask me about creatine but they're told putting anything foreign into the bodies is asking for trouble," he said. "We talk about how good natural food is, protein from foods like tuna and salmon is so much better for you. Protein supplements are for people who don't eat a balanced diet."

On the front lines are the coaches.

"The biggest reason why we steer them away from those things is they're at a young age and might not know what they're putting in," said Dave Diluzio, head football coach at Bishop McNally high school, as well as the Calgary Colts junior team.

"When a young athlete starts taking creatine and supplements, what comes after when they get older? If they hit a plateau, what do they do after that?"

Not all heed the words but the bombardment is getting through some skulls.

"I was thinking about taking creatine when I was training in the summer but not after being told so often to stay away from those things," said Roby Mussi, a Grade 12 football player at Bishop McNally.

"We've been told so often by coach Diluzio, it must be sinking in."

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DAILY DOSE OF REALITY

A whey protein shake can contain more than 40 grams of protein. Compare that to: 2 oz tuna (12g), 1 oz lean beef (7g), 1 large egg (7g), 8 oz of Weight Watchers Beef Stew (14g).


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