Experts advise athletes on dietary supplement use

(Reuters Health) - Athletes and dietary supplement users can use a new infographic from the International Olympic Committee to help them decide whether to take or avoid a supplement.

The committee’s Medical and Scientific Commission developed the infographic and a consensus statement around dietary supplements for high-performance athletes.

“In many parts of the world, half of the population takes a dietary supplement, and people who are consuming supplements without getting the benefits are wasting their money,” said lead author Dr. Ron Maughan of St. Andrews University in the UK.

Supplements include a wide range of products that incorporate added nutrients (such as protein shakes, sports drinks and fortified foods), essential nutrients in concentrated forms (such as vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and amino acids), herbals and botanicals, and products that promise health and performance optimization.

“Many times, those who take them probably don’t need them but those who need them don’t take them,” Maughan told Reuters Health by phone. “Those who are concerned about their health often get what they need through the foods they eat.”

Maughan and 25 experts on the commission met in Lausanne, Switzerland, in May 2017 to review the scientific evidence on the benefits and risks of supplement use. After three days of discussion, they concluded that dietary supplements are a legitimate part of a high-performance athlete’s preparation, especially when used appropriately.

The infographic, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, walks users through a decision tree of questions to understand whether they should take a specific supplement or not. For example, Is there scientific support for the supplement instead of anecdotal or “conventional” wisdom from a few sources? Are the adverse reactions, medication interactions, and dose requirements of the supplement known? Are there any prohibited substances in the supplement label? Finally, the infographic suggests checking whether the manufacturer is well-known and has a good history and a quality assurance program.

If the supplement passes all the requirements laid out in the infographic, the commission recommends using it on a trial basis and then practicing vigilant use of the supplement. Ultimately, dietary supplements should be a small part of a person’s nutrition strategy and used sparingly when food-based options aren’t available, the commission wrote.

“Make a small investment in speaking to a good dietician,” Maughan urges. “Know more than the basics about supplements and look beyond what you see on the shelf.”

Health professionals should be aware of the risks and benefits of dietary supplements, especially coaches, sports dieticians and athletic trainers who help athletes make informed decisions about their health.

Importantly, the commission wrote, supplement users should know that limited scientific evidence supports many supplements, and for elite athletes, few studies have investigated use in sporting contests in particular.

“Supplements must be placed in the proper context based on the goals and health of the individual,” said Eric Rawson of Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Rawson researches dietary supplement use for health, adaptation and recovery in athletes.

“We know there’s not much research for some of these products, and people are trying to make educated decisions about their use,” he told Reuters Health by phone. “We want to know how much these supplements can improve health for certain groups of people.”

SOURCE: British Journal of Sports Medicine, online June 23, 2018.