Almost 80% of endurance athletes use supplements: Survey

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

The new survey of endurance athletes (cyclists, runners & triathletes) showed that 78% were using dietary supplements to support health, enhance performance, and improve sleep.   Image © Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images
The new survey of endurance athletes (cyclists, runners & triathletes) showed that 78% were using dietary supplements to support health, enhance performance, and improve sleep. Image © Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Related tags endurance athletes Dietary supplement Probiotics Fish oil supplements Multivitamin

Dietary supplement use is very high among endurance athletes, with older athletes using the products, says a new study that suggests opportunity to develop age-specific products for this population.

Data published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements ​indicated that 78% of the 200 endurance athletes surveyed were current users of dietary supplements (DS), with almost 54% reporting that they used at least three supplement products.

Scientists from the University of Southern Mississippi and Texas Christian University report that the top 10 supplement used were Multivitamins; Electrolytes; Vitamin D; Protein; B vitamins; Fish oil; Probiotics; Melatonin; Amino Acids/ BCAAs’ and Glucosamine-chondroitin.

Use was significantly higher for older athletes, reported the scientists, with 67.5% of athletes aged between 40 and 49 and 76.2% of athletes aged between 50 and 59, compared to only 33% in 18–29-year-old athletes.

“While there may be a potential benefit to the use of DS in endurance athletes, the prevalence and trends of DS consumption in a sample of endurance cyclists, runners, and triathletes warrant further investigation into the benefits and risks of using DS by age level to develop targeted DS regimens based on age-specific needs on a recreative competitive level,” ​wrote the authors, led by Austin Graybeal from the University of Southern Mississippi.

Higher usage compared to the general population

The data shows similar overall usage levels as reported by the Council for Responsible Nutrition in its annual Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements.

CRN’s 2021 survey​ showed that 80% of Americans are now using dietary supplements, an increase of 7% from 2020. Also up is the number of Americans viewing the dietary supplements industry as trustworthy: 79% in 2021, compared to 74% in 2020.

Multivitamins remain the most used supplements, at 75% of all supplement users.

Study details

The new survey of endurance athletes included 200 cyclists, runners and triathletes (108 women, 92 men) who completed a questionnaire about their dietary supplement usage.

Older athletes (40 and above) used an average of 4.3 dietary supplements, compared to 2.7 for the under 40s.

Digging into the types of supplements used, the data showed that more older athletes used electrolytes, probiotics, melatonin, and vitamin D than younger athletes, said the researchers.

Motivations for using the supplements differed depending on the type of supplement, with, for example, the majority of responders reporting protein supplement use to help meet daily protein needs, and electrolytes to boost fluid balance. Fish oil was primarily used for general health, while probiotics were primarily used for general health, digestive health, and immune support.

Some of the athletes reported using CBD supplements, with usage significantly higher among those 50 and older, compared to other age groups. The main reasons cited for CBD usage were pain reduction and sleep improvements.

Overall, the data showed that 78% of respondents were using at least one dietary supplement. For the 22% non-users, many did report being previous users, but discontinued use primary due to a perceived lack of efficacy.

“It is possible that implementing information from uncredentialed sources resulted in inaccurate regimens or overreaching expectations for DS, leading to dissatisfaction and discontinuation,” ​wrote the researchers. “On the other hand, athletes using DS tended to receive their information from credible sources, and studies show high DS prevalence when information from credible professionals are available.

“Athletes and others should receive their information from credible professionals to ensure appropriate regimens for DS and to gain realistic expectations.”

Source: Journal of Dietary Supplements
Published online, doi: 10.1080/19390211.2022.2056670
“Age Drives the Differences in Dietary Supplement Use in Endurance Athletes: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of Cyclists, Runners, and Triathletes”
Authors: A.J. Graybeal et al.


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