When it comes to knowing what and why sports supplements are taken, 42% of young Canadian athletes surveyed gave clear, confident answers, while the remaining were only somewhat sure —one of the discoveries from a new study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
The study, titled Evaluation of Congruence among Dietary Supplement use and Motivation for Supplementation in Young, Canadian Athletes was conducted by researchers affiliated with Mount Royal University, University of Delaware, and University of Calgary.
Informed young consumers?
A study conducted in 2008 found that 78% of young athletes thought nutritional supplementation was not essential for athlete success, but 48% of these respondents were using nutritional supplements anyway. This finding was what drove the current study.
“Dietary supplement use is endemic in young athletes; however, it is unclear if their choices are congruent with their motivation for supplementation and the established benefits of the dietary supplements,” the researchers wrote.
To better understand this, they sought out 567 participants, athletes between the ages of 11 and 25 years, to complete a questionnaire. In total, 335 female athletes and 232 male athletes completed the questionnaire, 76 percent of which competed in the club or provincial level, and 24 percent of which competed in national or higher.
“Research in this demographic is particularly important, as the group consisted mostly of young, club level athletes who were less likely to have access to sport nutrition professional advisors, yet represent the majority of young athletes,” the report said.
There was a list of 27 supplements included for the respondents to report whether or not they take. The most popular were electrolyte drinks (90%), protein bars (71%), multi-vitamin/multi-mineral (67%), vitamin-enriched water (65%), and protein powder (51%).
There were 80% of athletes reporting at least one health-related reason for supplementation, with subcategories in a multiple option list that includes taking supplements either by doctor’s orders, to add to their everyday diet, to stay healthy, and to enhance immune system.
Similarly, 81% of athletes reported performance reasons as rationale for supplementation: to increase or maintain muscle mass, strength, and power, to increase endurance, to increase energy, to improve exercise recovery, or to enhance overall athletic performance.
Meanwhile, only 44% of athletes said that they take supplements because of the influence of others, whether friends, coaches, teammates or parents.
The researchers found that when it comes to taking fatty acids, protein supplements, vitamin and mineral supplements, vitamin-enriched water, and plant extracts, most young athletes were unsure why they were doing it.
For most of the athletes, taking vitamin and mineral supplements, fatty acids, energy drinks, protein bars, and gels and gummies were influenced from friends or teammates.
“There are many instances where there is a lack of evidence to support supplementation practices as they relate to their self-reported motivations for supplement use,” the researchers wrote, concluding that “educational interventions are essential to ensure young athletes are using dietary supplements safely and effectively.”