World Nutrition and Dietary Supplements

There is perhaps no more polarizing issue in the world of nutrition than that of dietary supplements.

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On the one hand, people seem to love them. Precise numbers vary depending on the source you use however it is clear that the majority of North Americans, especially athletes, have taken a dietary supplement at one time or another, and that the dietary supplement industry generates millions and millions of dollars annually.

On the other hand, there are the experts who regularly but, (too) quietly say, that most of what is available on the dietary supplement market has never been proven to do anything, other than take money from the consumer.

A recent study in International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism (2012 Feb, 22: 31-37) revealed some disturbing findings about supplement practices and perspectives of Canadian high performance athletes.

Registered Dietitians from eight Sport Centres across the country administered a sport supplement questionnaire. Data was obtained from 440 athletes (63% female, 37% male, average age ~20 year old) from 34 different sports.

Many of the results supported previous well-known findings. The vast majority of high performance athletes elect to supplement their diets (in this case 87% of the 440 athletes surveyed). The most popular reason given for taking supplements was to maintain health / prevent nutritional deficiency. The most frequently consumed supplements, in order, were: 1) sports drinks 2) multivitamin/minerals 3) carbohydrate sport bar and 4) protein powder. Other, more dubious, supplements also appeared on the list in considerable numbers including vitamin C, ginseng, Echinacea and L-glutamin.

That athletes take dietary supplements is no surprise. However, their reasons for doing so continue to befuddle me. Another very intriguing statistic revealed in this study was that 58.9% of athletes reported believing that if they discontinued taking their dietary supplements their sports performance would not be negatively affected. This obviously begs the question Then why again are you taking it in the first place? You would think high-level athletes must have a very compelling answer to this question, especially considering how the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (an independent, national, not-for profit organization) regularly cautions against the use of dietary supplements. Here is a direct quote from their website: After a recent anti-doping violation caused by supplement use, the CCES is again drawing attention to the extreme risk an athlete runs when using supplements. They go on to say: The CCES believes the use of most supplements poses an unacceptable risk for athletes and their athletic career.

So it seems like athletes have no compelling answer to the question of why they are taking supplements. Then, why do they do so with such gusto? Some insight into the answer to the question also came out in this recent study of Canadian athletes. And for my money, this is the most disturbing finding of all:

These athletes we're asked: What is your primary source of supplement advice?

The number one reported answer to this question was family and friends (as sited by 75 of the 440 athletes). Strength trainer, teammates and coach took spots two, three and four. Of course, who could neglect that mecca of all reputable information the internet; this came in at number five. You may be wondering where did Registered Dietitian come in on this list? The one profession specializing entirely in evidence-based nutrition, with four years of university training on the subject, plus another year of a practical internship, held to the highest standard of practice by regulatory provincial bodies, came in at spot number sixteen sixteen? sixteen! below naturopaths and the health food store, both of which made the top ten.

Adhering to the decorum of proper scientific writing the study authors offered the conclusion: Consistent with the findings of previous studies it appears that athletes are in need of enhanced education about their use of nutritional ergogenic aids.

Put less scientifically, this dietitian would like to suggest this conclusion is a gross understatement.

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Posted in Fitness Post Date 04/29/2017