The age-gender-status profile of high performing athletes in the UK taking nutritional supplements: lessons for the future

Petroczi, Andrea and Naughton, Declan P. (2008) The age-gender-status profile of high performing athletes in the UK taking nutritional supplements: lessons for the future. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 5(2), ISSN (online) 1550-2783


BACKGROUND: Owing to the mechanics of anti-doping regulation via the World Anti-Doping Agency's Prohibited List, nutritional supplement use received little attention in comparison to the prevalence of doping. The aims of this study were to investigate supplement use, identify groups of athletes with high levels of supplement use and the prevalence of concomitant use of supplements. METHODS: Survey data from 847 high-performing athletes in the UK were analysed using descriptive statistics. The survey, conducted by UK Sport, consisted of questions regarding knowledge of the prohibited substances, testing procedure, nutritional supplement use and perceptions of the doping problem. The proportion of supplement users and the relative use of each supplement were compared by age, gender and professional status. RESULTS: Among 874 high-performing athletes in the UK sample, 58.8% of them reported the use of at least one nutritional supplement. Among supplement users, 82.6% used more than one and 11.5% reported use of more than five nutritional supplements. Of the 9 supplements listed, multivitamins (72.6%) and vitamin C (70.7%) were used most, followed by creatine (36.1%), whey protein (31.7%), echinacea (30.9%), iron (29.9%) and caffeine (23.7%). Less than 11% reported the use of magnesium or ginseng. Creatine use was typically associated with males regardless of status and across all ages, whereas iron was characteristically used by females. A 'typical' supplement user is male, between 24 and 29 years of age, involved in professional sport and using a combination of supplements. Male professional players between age 30 and 34 years, and female non-professional athletes between 24 and 29 years of age also represented a considerable proportion of supplement users. Athletes older than 40 years of age were practically non-users. Concomitant use of supplements is characteristic of male users more than females. CONCLUSION: As supplement use has been previously shown to increase the probability of prohibited substance use, groups exhibiting high use of nutritional supplements should be monitored. Future research should incorporate a wide range of supplements and enquire about the daily amount ingested. In addition to tutoring, preventive measures should incorporate offering acceptable and healthy alternatives for assisted performance enhancement.

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