A recent study found that high school athletes that participated in a short, online nutritional education program were significantly more likely to use safe, third-party tested supplements.
According to Arizona State University researchers, students became more self-reliant when they knew where and how to find and purchase supplements. The program also increased their intention to make better basic dietary decisions.
“The novelty of this study is that little is known about high school athletes’ dietary choices, or the impact of nutritional supplement educational materials, as there is only a limited number of education programs available,” the researchers wrote. “Specifically, for sports nutrition topics, no national education programs exist, and in combination with the lower level of funding compared with the collegiate setting, no direct access to a registered (sports) dietitian is normally available.”
They added that high school athletes often need to rely on other knowledgeable and credible resources.
The researchers conducted a two-week education including multiple elements, such as theory-driven and intrapersonal, media-based interventions. They included nutrition education and/or self-regulation components that can successfully impact behavior. The program was carried out at a small Christian high school.
The athletes eligible to participate in this study were those on any of the boys’ or girls’ athletic rosters who were between 13 and 19 years old and willing and able to participate in the researchers’ online questionnaire. In the pre-questionnaire, athletes were asked to check the nutritional supplement they used during the last 12 months from a predefined list and whether they knew if each supplement was third-party tested.
The online course the researchers created consisted of four modules based on scientific literature, information from professional organizations and recent evidence-based research. Athletes learned about the safety of nutritional supplements and were asked about how they could be influenced by others to use nutritional supplements. They were also tested on the material. As part of their homework, students were asked to upload pictures of nutritional supplements that they are currently using.
"We specifically looked at the intention to use third-party tested supplements," Floris Wardenaar, PhD, lead researcher on the study, told NutraIngredients-USA. "It is known that intention does not always result in behavior change. Therefore, although the results are promising, we need to look further into how high schools can facilitate that behavior change also really takes place."
Commenting independently on the study, Jeff Ventura, vice president of communications at the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), said the organization encourages consumers, including high school athletes, to look for third-party verified products from reputable brands.
“Education about nutrition and the safe use of dietary supplements in high school athletes is needed, and we applaud efforts to develop educational programs as long as they provide accurate information about dietary supplements,” Ventura said. “Before using any kind of sports-related supplement, high school athletes should discuss what products they intend on taking with their parents and with a physician.”
An important finding of the study was an increase in the intention among high school athletes to use third-party tested supplements, up to 96% in protein powder and 86% in pre-workout supplements. These types of supplements are considered to have more risk of being contaminated or spiked than others, the researchers wrote.
However, Dr. Wardenaar noted that there was no clear intention seen after the course to lower the intake of certain (potentially less effective or relevant, or potentially risky) nutritional supplements.
During 2017 and 2018, approximately 34% of children and adolescents used various types of nutritional supplements. Specifically, high school athletes reported using on average eight different supplements, ranging from 0 to 31 supplements per person, during the last 12 months, according to the researchers.
State legislators are particularly aware of supplement use in people under the age of 18. At least five states are making moves to restrict access to muscle building and weight management supplements, citing the development of health risks, including eating disorders, for minors who use them.
Industry groups have voiced their concerns, stating that there is no scientific evidence that eating disorders are linked to supplement use. In 2023, CRN commissioned a scientific review which concluded there was no causative role for dietary supplements in eating disorders.
Source: Journal of Dietary Supplement
“The Development and Efficacy of a High School Athlete Education Program for Safe Nutritional Supplement Use”
Authors: Floris C. Wardenaar et al.