RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. (AP) _ Checking himself out in the weight-room mirror, 16-year-old Marshell Sailor flexes his right arm and smiles wide.
He's admiring the new muscle that helped him win a spot as starting defensive tackle on the varsity football team at Cordova High School in suburban Sacramento. Sailor credits the strength to hard work, a timely growth spurt and a hodgepodge of powders and shakes from a local health store.
``I saw what everybody else was lifting and I wanted to lift that, too,'' he said, adding that he stopped using some of the products after failing to see results.
Like many high school athletes, Sailor is barely aware of the furor that erupted this summer in California over Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's support of nutritional supplements. But he can rattle off the name brands of several protein and creatine products. He can tell you how he thinks they work, what they cost and when to take them.
For Sailor and many of his peers, navigating the world of nutritional supplements has become part of the formula for success.
Eight percent of girls and 12 percent of boys age 12-18 said they used supplements in pursuit of a better body, according to a survey funded by the National Institutes of Health and cereal-maker Kellogg Co. published this month. For high school athletes in competitive sports, the percentage may be far higher.
``Everybody's tried them, pretty much,'' said quarterback Andrew Davis, surveying the Cordova Lancers weight room, where the team spends at least four hours a week.
Most popular are protein shakes and powders that add calories to fast-growing teenage bodies. They are often blends of whey protein and nitric oxide. Many athletes said they've experimented with creatine, a natural substance found in muscle tissue and also in lean meat and fish. All those substances are legal, over-the-counter and easily accessible.
The goal for many high school athletes is to try to get faster and stronger. What's less obvious to many teenagers and parents is whether supplements are needed to do it.
The Schwarzenegger controversy was the result of the governor and body-builder having close ties to the nutritional supplement industry at the same time he vetoed a bill that could have hurt it. Schwarzenegger has long defended his own use of such products.
``Wherever I am, I have food supplements. That's part of me. I just happen to believe in it very strongly,'' he said last month.
But some doctors and industry critics say even the non-prescription products make false claims and are unnecessary.
``The question is: supplementing what? People who need supplements have, basically, a disease or some dietary behavior that would leave them wanting something,'' said Dr. Gary Wadler, a professor of sports medicine at New York University and an expert on performance-enhancing drugs. ``It may be quite fashionable to take these things, but whether they really do anything to otherwise healthy people is dubious at best.''
Wadler supports a bill in the California legislature that would bar high school athletes from taking three nutritional supplements _ synephrine, ephedra and DHEA. The list would not include the protein and creatine products many athletes say they use.
Several athletes said they got their information about supplements from each other, not coaches. They said they never considered taking steroids, and many had never heard of the substances that would be banned in the bill. Others said they avoid supplements altogether, uncertain that the benefits are as advertised.
``A lot of people are concerned about what's in these things because it says one thing and means another. You've really got to research it,'' said 16-year-old Andrew Jackson, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound football player at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley east of Sacramento.
The California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees the state's high school athletic programs, has moved toward regulation on its own. In May, it adopted rules barring coaches from promoting or distributing any muscle-building substances.
``We're not going to go into mom and dad's kitchen, but we certainly shouldn't be having coaches promoting this stuff,'' said Roger Black of the federation.
Some coaches said they do what they can to teach students about nutrition and that some of the pressure on them was misguided.
``I can tell you we educate our kids on it, and tell our parents, 'Tell your kids not to take it; we don't know what's in it,''' said Casey Jones, head football coach at Del Oro High School in Loomis, another Sacramento suburb. ``They keep hammering high school coaches, but I wonder when they're going to step up and make GNC (General Nutrition Center) and these companies accountable. They're the ones making a ton of money off this stuff.''
Industry groups deride the effort to ban some nutritional supplements as a political stunt intended to draw attention to Schwarzenegger's close ties to the industry.