The use of nutritional supplements among recreational athletes in Athens, Greece

Journal Title (Medline/Pubmed accepted abbreviation): Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab
Year: 2011
Volume: 21
Page Numbers: 377-384
doi (if applicable):

Summary of background and research design:

Background:Nutritional supplements are used in the general population to overcome nutritional deficiencies and augment overall quality of health and physical performance. However, excessive intake of supplements may cause adverse events, and professional guidance on use of such products is recommended.  

Hypothesis/Purpose: To assess the patterns of nutritional supplement use, perceptions of benefit, and knowledge of regulatory guidance among recreational athletes.

Subjects:Three hundred and twenty-nine recreational athletes (mean age, 30.6 ± 12.1 y) from 11 selected gyms in Athens participated in this study.

Experimental design: Observational 

Treatments and protocol:
In gym centers, 1,100 individuals were asked to answer a validated, self-administered questionnaire with 36 closed-ended questions addressing 3 areas: lifestyle, social, and demographic, and exercise practices adopted; nutritional supplement use; and sources of information on nutritional supplements and relevant legislation. Questionnaires were returned to gym centers (29.9% return rate).

Summary of research findings:
  • Among responders, 78.8% of men and 50.0% of women had exercised regularly for > 3 years.
    • The most common types of exercise included resistance exercise and martial arts among men (42.8%) and aerobic sessions among women (35.0%).
    • 51.1% of participants had a university degree, and 67% of them worked in the private sector.
  • 41.1% of participants reported supplement use.
    • Proteins/amino acids and vitamins were the most commonly used supplements (62.5% and 50.0%, respectively).
    • Only 24.4% of the population studied used isotonic drinks (mostly by those who practiced aerobic sports [47.2%]).
    • 56.7% of users used more than one type of supplement, and among those users 80.4% used supplements > 3 times/week.
  • Those who practiced aerobic sports used carbohydrates more, whereas those who preferred resistance exercise or martial arts primarily chose proteins/amino acids.
    • Perceived positive effects of use were associated with types of supplements used (P < .001) and frequency of use (P < .001).
    • Level of education (P < .005) and profession (P < .05) were associated with consumption of nutritional supplements.
    • Young males used supplements more than any other age or sex group.
  • Only 17.1% of users had consulted a physician or a nutritionist.
    • Other sources of supplement recommendations include their personal trainers (24.4%), coathletes, and friends (31.6%), while 26.8% of the users had decided on their own.
  • 89.1% of supplement users checked product labeling.
    • Only 33% were aware of relevant legislation.
    • 33% did not know where to get products analyzed.
  • 23 subjects declared use of anabolic agents in supplements.
    • Of these, 11 were not actually anabolic agents but consisted of amino acid combinations and creatine.
    • The others included herbal extracts, synthetic anabolic steroids, and selective estrogen-receptor modulators and aromatase inhibitors.

Interpretation of findings/Key practice applications:

The current study showed limited use of nutritional supplements compared with previous reports, although it confirms previous findings that men are more likely to use nutritional supplements and that a usage frequency >3 times/week is common. Moreover, the consumption pattern of nutritional supplements is similar between professional athletes, an urban population, and recreational athletes, despite the differences in energy requirements and muscle damage between these groups. Although users in this study checked the labels of the products they used, they were not aware of relevant legislation and available facilities for testing of these products, which is similar to professional athletes. Educational efforts are needed in this area to provide accurate knowledge on nutritional requirements and benefits of supplements in exercising individuals.


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