Dietary supplementation habits and perceptions of supplement use among elite Finnish athletes

Journal Title (Medline/Pubmed accepted abbreviation): Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab
Year: 2011
Volume: 21
Page numbers: 271-279
doi (if applicable):

Summary of background and research design:

Background: Dietary supplementation is common among athletes for increasing strength, performance, immunologic function, and nutritional resources. However, the athlete’s rationale and expectations for a supplement do not always match the clinical evidence, and consultation with a dietary specialist for accurate information may not occur.

Hypothesis/Purpose: The purpose of this study was to evaluate trends in dietary supplement usage among Olympic athletes, identify reasons and expectations for usage, and evaluate how often dietary specialists were consulted.

Subjects: Among 2 studies, 818 Olympic athletes participated (year 2002, n = 446 and 2009, n = 372; sex, 479 men and 339 women). Baseline characteristics were similar between the 2 groups (mean age, ~22 yr; duration of career, ~11 yr; training amount, ~14.5 hr/wk). The majority of athletes performed in team sports (n = 263) followed by speed and power events (n = 225), endurance events (n = 188), and motor-skill-demanding events (n = 142).

Experimental design: Cross-sectional

Treatments and protocol: Athletes completed semistructured questionnaires that focused on dietary supplement use and opportunities to consult with a dietary specialist. All information on vitamin, mineral, and nutritional supplement (herbal and homeopathic) use, including frequency, reason for use, and any observed benefits, was collected.

Summary of research findings:
  • Overall, more athletes used supplements in 2002 (81%) than in 2009 (73%; P = .004).
    • Vitamins: 67% and 56% of athletes, respectively (P = .001); multivitamins as most popular.
    • Minerals: 37% and 30% of athletes, respectively (P = .052); iron and magnesium as most popular.
    • Nutritional supplements: 60% and 52% of athletes, respectively (P = .018); protein and carbohydrate as most popular.
  • The primary reasons cited for supplemental use:
    • Vitamins and minerals: prevent nutritional deficiencies (64%) and maintain health (30%).
      • Magnesium for cramps (58%), with 77% reporting a benefit.
      • Iron to maintain hemoglobin levels (81%).
    • Nutritional supplements: recover from exercise (80%) and increase energy (22%).
      • Omega-3 to recover from exercise (84%), with 28% reporting a benefit.
      • Overall, 79% of nutritional supplement users reported a benefit.
  • In 2009, only 27% of athletes reporting having an opportunity to consult with a dietary specialist.

Interpretation of findings/Key practice applications:

Overall, dietary supplement usage decreased among elite athletes in Finland from 2002 to 2009. Although this study was large enough to detect small changes in dietary supplement usage, no examples for each category were given in the questionnaire. This may result in underreporting of some supplements. Sources for information on supplement usage were not asked, but information from a dietary specialist was low. This may lead to imbalances in diet and decreased optimal performance because of specific nutrition intake necessary for each type of sport.

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