Concerning knowledge gaps among sports science students could impact pro-athletes

By Nicola Gordon-Seymour

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | Pat Hastings
Getty | Pat Hastings

Related tags Supplements athletes nutritionist Sports nutrition

Researchers have expressed concern about knowledge gaps in sports science students on the safe use of dietary supplements, which could have serious consequences for future athletes.

Data from a recent survey of Italian students demonstrated poor knowledge and little guidance on the concomitant implications of supplement intake with medication and an overall lack of professional advice on personal use for students.

This observation supports the idea that respondents were possibly unaware of potential interactions between drugs and supplements and suggests educational needs and support are not being met, the authors comment.

“This could be of concern, as the specific population of respondents represents an important cohort of society: the individuals who are most likely to become the sport coaches of tomorrow, i.e., the professionals who are most likely to be consulted by athletes for advice on which supplements to take,” ​they say.

Active versus sedentary lifestyle

To understand the habits of students in relation to supplements and medication, 1,452 were recruited to complete multiple-choice and open-ended questions to determine activity levels, work status, and drug and supplement use.

Researchers noted that physically active students and those involved in competitive sport were less likely to take medication and more likely to take supplements than those with a more ‘sedentary lifestyle’​.

However, out of those who indicated supplement intake only 23 had received professional advice (and not from a doctor) and 15 of these reported taking both medication and dietary supplements.

“This observation supports the idea that respondents were possibly unaware of the potential interactions between the drugs and the supplements,” ​they say.

“Although our findings suggest that in this relatively young and selected population, there is an influence of being physically active on the use of either drugs or supplements, there was an overlap between drug and supplement consumption that was probably not advised by any specialist (i.e., physician or pharmacist).

Marginal drug use

The majority of students involved in the study were aged 18 to 23 years, but 546 older than 24 years. Among these 517 were employed and 86 had sedentary jobs (based on personal assessment). Most were physically active (74%) and 34.5% took part in competitive sports.

There were 205 “usual supplement users​” with multivitamins the main product. Other common therapies included vitamins C and B complex and a range of minerals, amino acids or protein complex.

Regular “drug users​” accounted for 5.6% of students, of which 8.5% took more than one per day. Routine medication varied from life-saving drugs (such as thyroid medication) or contraceptives, to short-term use of antihistamines, antipyretics, or painkillers.

The study aim was to explore the potential of an educational intervention to explain the benefits of physical activity in reducing drug intake and the possibility of specific interventions between drugs and supplements.

More men take supplements

The probability of supplement use was significantly higher among physically active male students with a job, compared with the less active male cohort. Overall, physically active males were 3.5 times more likely to take supplements.

Drug use was more prevalent among female students with a sedentary job and other less active respondents who were also more prone to chronic disease.

There was no reported difference in drug or supplement use in respondents involved in competitive versus non-competitive sports.

Unfortunately, the low number of responses to questions relating to professional advice on supplement use, meant that the data could not be fully analysed, however of the 23 that did respond “trainer​” was cited by 60.8% of students and none indicated medical input, such as a doctor.

The authors’ comment: “Considering these students will likely continue their career in a sport-related field, our results indicate that a deeper knowledge regarding the harms and benefits of natural supplements, especially possible contra-indications in cases of underlying diseases or chronic therapies (i.e., for epilepsy, diabetes, kidney or liver problems), is needed.”

Source: Nutrients

Published online, October 13, 2022:

‘Use of Drugs and Dietary Supplements in University Students of Sports Science: Results of a Survey-Based Cross-Sectional Study’

Authors : Giovanni Ficarra, Michelangelo Rottura, Pierangela Irrera, Alessandra Bitto, Fabio Trimarchi and Debora Di Mauro

Related topics Research

Related news

Follow us


View more