Athletes using sport supplements relaxed in attitudes to doping, study finds

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Athletes using sport supplements relaxed in attitudes to doping, study finds

Related tags: athletes, doping, Sports nutrition, Supplements

Athletes using legal performance enhancing sport supplements display a more relaxed attitude towards doping compared to those who stick to foods, according to a new UK study.

Researchers find ergogenic, medical and sport food/drink supplement use is linked to doping attitudes driven by a stronger belief amongst these users that these supplements can improve performance.

“Our results have important implications for coaches, nutritionists and sport doctors,”​ says co-author Christopher Ring, professor in psychology at the University of Birmingham.

“They must appreciate that athletes who are administered ergogenic and medical sport supplements may develop more favourable attitudes towards doping.

“An athlete using these supplements may come to believe that using chemically active substances is an acceptable way of enhancing sport performance. This belief could then later develop into a rationalisation that doping is just another means to enhance performance.”

A recent study​ has placed the use of sport supplements such as creatine, sodium bicarbonate, sport drinks) in athletes between 40 and 100%.

Further research highlights positive relationships between sport supplement use and doping, with a meta-analysis suggesting sport supplement use a strong predictor of doping use and doping intention.

The paper adds it is uncertain whether all types of sport supplements lead to doping and whether all types of sport supplements exert an equal influence on an athlete’s decision to dope.

Study details

In an alliance between the University of Birmingham and Canterbury Christ Church University, the research team asked 573 athletes of various levels about their use of four sport supplement types.

These were ergogenic, such as creatine - used to improve performance and medical, such as iron - used to treat clinical issues and nutrient deficiencies.

Other supplement types included sport foods/drinks, such as protein bars - providing a source of nutrients; and superfoods, such as goji berries – which claim to optimise health and performance.

Findings revealed that athletes using ergogenic and medical sport supplements to improve performance, (via strength increases and shorter recovery times) could develop the belief that doping is another means to improve performance.

"It is important that nutritionists, doctors and physiotherapists are aware that when prescribing these sport supplements to athletes, they are unintentionally sending the message that their is an acceptable practice in sport​,” says Dr Philip Hurst, co-author and senior lecturer in psychology and life sciences at Canterbury Christ Church University.

“This may lead athletes to believe that the use of other banned substances, such as anabolic steroids, are acceptable.

"Given these results of research, anti-doping organisations, such as UK Anti-Doping and the World Anti-Doping Agency, should educate athletes and sport practitioners about the risks associated with sport supplement use to prevent athletes from progressing to doping in the future."

Discussing results

In discussing the findings, the team suggests that users of ergogenic and medical sport supplements become accustomed to performance enhancing methods.

The user then goes on to develop the belief that chemically active substances are a necessary and acceptable method in which to improve performance.

“As a result, it is therefore likely that athletes using these types of sport supplements reported more favourable attitudes towards doping given the shared performance enhancing function,”​ the paper adds.

The finding that the use of ergogenic, medical, and sport food and drink supplement types predicted doping attitudes via sport supplement beliefs was also addressed.

Here, the team suggests that sport supplement users develop beliefs about their effectiveness over time and, as a result, report more favourable attitudes about doping.

“The perceived beneficial effects of sport supplements may further increase the belief that they are effective, which may, in turn, lead to the development of favourable attitudes towards doping,”​ they say.

“The finding that ergogenic supplement use did not have a direct effect on doping attitudes indicates the importance of beliefs as a factor that could explain why athletes using this type of supplement report more favourable attitudes to dope.”

Co-author of the study Dr Maria Kavussanu, reader in sport & exercise psychology at the University of Birmingham adds, “Given that athletes using ergogenic and medical sport supplements are more likely to be open to doping, it is important that these sportspeople receive tailored anti-doping education to prevent a potential increase in the use of banned substances.”

Source: Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport

Published online: doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2020.09.012

“Athletes using ergogenic and medical sport supplements report more favourable attitudes to doping than non-users.”

Authors: Philip Hurst, Christopher Ring, Maria Kavussanu

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