50% of military personnel use bodybuilding, energy, or weight-loss supplements

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Dietary supplement

50% of military personnel use bodybuilding, energy, or weight-loss supplements
US military personnel are keen users of bodybuilding, energy, or weight-loss supplements, with 46% of personnel using at least one type of supplement, says a new survey.

Data from 106,698 active-duty, Reserve, and National Guard personnel represents the first time that supplement use has been assessed across all branches of the US military.

According to findings published in the Annals of Epidemiology​, 22% of personnel also use multiple supplements.

Deployment was found to be a major factor for supplement use, with male deployers found to be more likely to use bodybuilding supplements, while female deployers were more likely to use weight-loss supplements, report researchers led by Isabel Jacobson, MPH, from the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego.

Benefits and adverse events

“This offers important information to military leadership that may seek to better understand the characteristics of these individuals to help focus educational messages regarding the safety of various types of supplements, or help promote their use in cases where such use may be beneficial to one's health,”​ wrote Jacobson and her co-workers.

“In addition, follow-up studies to evaluate adverse health events related to supplement use are planned.

“Identifying populations with greater likelihood for bodybuilding, energy, and weight-loss supplement use, such as deployers as identified in this study, may be of importance to medical planners and military policy makers in targeting adverse event monitoring and determining how supplements affect performance and health over time.”


Military sources have previously expressed concern over the excessive use of supplements by service personnel. In an exclusive interview with NutraIngredients-USA last year​, Edward Zambraski, PhD, Division Chief, Military Performance Division, US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) said that a current lack of understanding of the effects of some supplements is causing concern within the US military.

Dr Zambraski said that, while supplement use per se​ is not a concern, excessive supplement use is.

“The Army is concerned about the excess of supplements being taken [by soldiers] and particularly supplements that we really don’t understand their effects, supplements that could be interactive with one another, or with other medications that may be taken, or supplements that we don’t understand how they may work in the environment of a military operational setting,”​ he said.

“The US Army Medical Research and Material Command has set up a specialized group to deal with nutritional supplements in terms of obtaining information in the operational theatre […] and trying to get a handle on that.”

Mixing alcohol and energy supplements

The Annals of Epidemiology paper also describes “factors not previously identified as predictors of dietary supplement use”​ among the general population that were linked to supplement use in military personnel, including ‘problem drinking’ and energy supplement use.

“Although the energy supplement question did not ask about the specific kind of energy supplements or the reasons for using these supplements, it is possible that energy drinks or other energy enhancers are being consumed in conjunction with alcohol, which has been observed in other studies to create a high-risk situation if the perception of intoxication is lowered by the feeling of increased energy,”​ wrote Jacobson and her co-workers.

“This study contributes to public health in several ways since this military population represents a group of relatively young, healthy individuals, and their use of the specific supplements studied here may be similar to young adults in the general population,”​ they concluded.

Monthly spend

In agreement with the new study, data from a USARIEM survey of US Army personnel revealed that that 53% of the surveyed soldiers were users of dietary supplements (all supplements, not limited to bodybuilding, energy, or weight-loss), with the average monthly spend of $38.

In addition, 63% of the soldiers took supplements in order to improve their health, a significant proportion also listed reasons including providing more energy, increasing muscle strength, and enhancing performance, according to findings published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition​ (Vol. 92, pp. 985-995).

Beyond the bodybuilding, energy, or weight-loss supplement segments, one ingredient gaining a lot of positive attention within military circles is omega-3. Links to the fatty acids' potential benefits for mental health and stress resiliance have led to some hailing omega-3s as 'nutritional armor'​.


Once ingredient causing concerns amongst the military is DMAA (1,3-dimethylamylamine, and also known as methylhexanamine (MHA) and several other names), with the US Department of Defense temporarily banning the sale of dietary supplement products containing the ingredient.

As reported by NutraIngredients-USA​, US Army and Air Force Exchange Service stores removed products containing DMAA from their shelves following links to the deaths of two soldiers.

Source: Annals of Epidemiology
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2012.02.017
“Bodybuilding, Energy, and Weight-Loss Supplements Are Associated With Deployment and Physical Activity In U.S. Military Personnel”
Authors: I.G. Jacobson, J.L. Horton, B. Smith, T.S. Wells, E.J. Boyko, H.R. Lieberman, M.A.K. Ryan, T.C. Smith, and the Millennium Cohort Study Team

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1 comment

ARMY MRMC Group - Best input

Posted by Andrew L. Rubman, ND,

While it is good that our ARMY is looking for input from a specialized group regarding the use of natural pharmacy, I would challenge them to incorporate naturopathic physicians as their specialists. We have more didactic and clinical training in this area than other physicians and stand ready to support our troops.

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