The YouGov study published by UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) points to the need for the general public to heed expert guidance before taking sports nutritional supplements.
“People may decide to turn to supplements for a ‘quick-fix’, however for most, their nutritional needs can be met through a good diet, and we support a ‘food-first’ approach to nutrition,” said Nicole Sapstead, UKAD’s chief executive.
Sapstead added that while elite athletes were aware that taking a prohibited substance could lead to a ban, everybody should know what they are putting in their body.
“We believe there is a vital public debate that needs to take place around the growing supplement culture in the UK and the survey results highlight this,” she added.
“These results show a huge percentage of British adults do not seek any advice from a healthcare professional before taking supplements, and many also take a cocktail of products.”
The survey found 87% of active British adults who exercised and took sports supplements, did not seek any advice from a doctor, pharmacist, or dietician, before taking these supplements.
Further findings revealed a fifth (20%) of those surveyed did not seek any advice at all before consuming these products.
When asked about the kinds of supplements taken, over a fifth of adults (22%) said that they had taken weight loss/fat burners. Pre-workout supplements were taken by 15% of those surveyed.
Supplements should not be seen as a quick fix,” echoed Tracey Crouch, UK minister for sport and civil society.
“It’s important that anyone, whether an amateur athlete or avid gym-goer, is aware of the potential side effects and seeks advice before taking supplements."
With some of these legitimate products likely to contain stimulants like caffeine, the concern centres on the known side effects, when taken frequently and in high doses.
These can include insomnia, anxiety, increased heart rate and blood pressure.
However, for illegal products that contain banned substances such as methylhexanamine (DMAA) or dimethylbutylamine (DMAB), professional athletes can be forbidden from competing as both stimulants are on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned list.
UKAD has made clear that there is a legitimate place for supplements in performance sports alongside a healthy lifestyle.
Indeed, much of UKAD’s efforts centre on reducing the risks that supplement use can potentially expose users to.
Informed Sport collaboration
As part of its of efforts, UKAD are working with supplement certification service Informed Sport, to minimise the risk of contamination through their supplement batch testing programme.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which oversees medicines, medical devices and blood components for transfusion in the UK, has placed an emphasis on sports supplements which contain unlicensed medicines such as DMAA.
“We’re working with UKAD to warn athletes about the dangers of unlicensed medicines, marketed as sports supplements, containing active ingredients such as DMAA,” said William Whitfield, an MHRA Medicines Borderline Classifier.
“We will continue to take robust action when such products come to our attention. MHRA first classified a product containing DMAA as a medicine, and subsequently had it removed from sale in the UK, in 2012. We will protect public health by continuing to do so.”