Dietary supplement (DS) consumption is widespread among competitive athletes. However, it’s not known whether athletes in certain sports have a greater affinity for using them than others.
For this study, published in the journal Nutrients, the authors surveyed competitive and elite German athletes to identify consumption behaviour in five DS categories: general health, regeneration promotion, performance enhancement, booster and weight loss. They then identified subgroups with a high affinity of consumption behaviour.
"Although the use of DS and its benefits and risks [have been] extensively studied, consumption behaviour and motivation have not yet been investigated, depending on the sports discipline […] it can be assumed that the use of DS in certain sports disciplines will be significantly higher than in others," the authors noted.
Athletes increasingly using DS as a training tool
DS are becoming more important in athletes’ training routines despite the risk of contaminated supplements, which can trigger positive doping tests.
Prior research suggests performance level and training frequency have a greater influence on consumption than gender. The higher the performance level and the number of training sessions each week, the more frequently athletes consume DS.
DS which can enhance physical performance are mainly caffeine, creatine, nitrates, beta-alanine and sodium bicarbonate.
The authors note that "supplements are often consumed without adequate education and advice from physicians, sports nutrition coaches or scientists". Studies reveal that only between a sixth and a quarter of athletes use detailed counselling to assess effects and risks.
Instead of consulting sports nutrition experts, athletes instead rely on coaches, friends, teammates or family for information on DS.
Surveying competitive athletes
The authors surveyed 623 subjects (53% female) through online questionnaires. They classified participants who regularly take part in national and international competitions as competitive athletes.
The survey included general information such as biological sex, age and weight alongside details of the sport athletes performed. It also captured DS consumption behaviour including time and volume of intake.
Overall, 409 people’s questionnaires were included in the analysis.
Differing supplement choices
The survey showed different DS consumption behaviour depending on the type of sport performed.
Results indicated that in sports dominated by conditional skills (strength, power, speed, endurance), there was a higher affinity for DS compared to sports in which technical and tactical components play an important role i.e., tennis, soccer, gymnastics and martial arts.
The results suggest that in sports where the conditional skill of strength dominates, athletes tend to use supplements very heavily.
Female athletes from technically compositional sports tend not to consume dietary supplements. Yet research suggests that females tend to be more likely to use the services of experts for supplement advice.
"Male power athletes in particular are the subgroup with the greatest consumption behaviour and therefore require special education on the effects and use of DS," the authors wrote.
They noted that consumption of different DS categories, apart from weight loss, are interrelated and "this implies DS consumption often follows the all-or-nothing principle."
"Therefore, in addition to better educating athletes about dietary supplements, further systematic investigations of individual dietary supplements, as well as combinations of different supplements from the same category and different categories, should be conducted to identify potential additive or inhibitory effects, as well as potential side effects," the report stated.
As in previous studies, the researchers could only reach a relatively small number of athletes. Also, because of the breadth of supplements used from different brands, they acknowledged that "no statement can be made regarding which exact supplements are used by which subgroups". The study did not collect dosage information or the number of DS used at the same time.
“Differences in Consumption Behaviour of Dietary Supplements in Competitive Athletes Depends on Sports Discipline”
Authors: Eduard Isenmann et al.