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Hans Braun, Hans Geyer and Karsten Koehler

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Hans Braun, Karsten Koehler, Hans Geyer, Jens Kleinert, Joachim Mester and Wilhelm Schänzer

Little is known about the prevalence and motives of supplement use among elite young athletes who compete on national and international levels. Therefore, the current survey was performed to assess information regarding the past and present use of dietary supplements among 164 elite young athletes (16.6 ± 3.0 years of age). A 5-page questionnaire was designed to assess their past and present (last 4 weeks) use of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrate, protein, and fat supplements; sport drinks; and other ergogenic aids. Furthermore, information about motives, sources of advice, supplement sources, and supplement contamination was assessed. Eighty percent of all athletes reported using at least 1 supplement, and the prevalence of use was significantly higher in older athletes (p < .05). Among supplement users, minerals, vitamins, sport drinks, energy drinks, and carbohydrates were most frequently consumed. Only a minority of the athletes declared that they used protein/amino acids, creatine, or other ergogenic aids. Major motives for supplement use were health related, whereas performance enhancement and recommendations by others were less frequently reported. Supplements were mainly obtained from parents or by athletes themselves and were mostly purchased in pharmacies, supermarkets, and health-food stores. Among all athletes, only 36% were aware of the problem of supplement contamination. The survey shows that supplement use is common and widespread among German elite young athletes. This stands in strong contrast to recommendations by leading sport organizations against supplement use by underage athletes.

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Ronald J. Maughan, Louise M. Burke, Jiri Dvorak, D. Enette Larson-Meyer, Peter Peeling, Stuart M. Phillips, Eric S. Rawson, Neil P. Walsh, Ina Garthe, Hans Geyer, Romain Meeusen, Luc van Loon, Susan M. Shirreffs, Lawrence L. Spriet, Mark Stuart, Alan Vernec, Kevin Currell, Vidya M. Ali, Richard G.M. Budgett, Arne Ljungqvist, Margo Mountjoy, Yannis Pitsiladis, Torbjørn Soligard, Uğur Erdener and Lars Engebretsen

Nutrition usually makes a small but potentially valuable contribution to successful performance in elite athletes, and dietary supplements can make a minor contribution to this nutrition program. Nonetheless, supplement use is widespread at all levels of sport. Products described as supplements target different issues, including the management of micronutrient deficiencies, supply of convenient forms of energy and macronutrients, and provision of direct benefits to performance or indirect benefits such as supporting intense training regimens. The appropriate use of some supplements can offer benefits to the athlete, but others may be harmful to the athlete’s health, performance, and/or livelihood and reputation if an anti-doping rule violation results. A complete nutritional assessment should be undertaken before decisions regarding supplement use are made. Supplements claiming to directly or indirectly enhance performance are typically the largest group of products marketed to athletes, but only a few (including caffeine, creatine, specific buffering agents and nitrate) have good evidence of benefits. However, responses are affected by the scenario of use and may vary widely between individuals because of factors that include genetics, the microbiome, and habitual diet. Supplements intended to enhance performance should be thoroughly trialed in training or simulated competition before implementation in competition. Inadvertent ingestion of substances prohibited under the anti-doping codes that govern elite sport is a known risk of taking some supplements. Protection of the athlete’s health and awareness of the potential for harm must be paramount, and expert professional opinion and assistance is strongly advised before embarking on supplement use.