Shutterstock image of medals and doping tablets

14 October 2020

Research suggests athletes using sport supplements are more open to doping

A new study has revealed athletes using legal performance enhancing medical sport supplements are more likely to dope than those using sport foods and superfoods.

While some sport supplements may be necessary for an athlete’s programme, taking ergogenic (performance-enhancing) and medical sport supplements may inadvertently lead to sports people developing favourable attitudes towards doping.

Researchers at Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of Birmingham are calling for bespoke anti-doping education for athletes using such supplements to prevent them turning to banned substances.

In the first study of its kind, the researchers surveyed 573 athletes competing at club, country, national and international level about their use of four types of sport supplements:

  • Ergogenic, such as creatine - used to improve performance;
  • Medical, such as iron - used to treat clinical issues and nutrient deficiencies;
  • Sport foods/drinks, such as protein bars - providing a source of nutrients; and
  • Superfoods, such as goji berries – which claim to optimise health and performance.

Publishing their findings in Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, the researchers note that athletes using ergogenic and medical sport supplements to improve performance, through boosting strength and shortening recovery between training sessions can develop the belief that doping is another means to improve performance.

"It is important that sport practitioners, such as nutritionists, doctors and physiotherapists, are aware that when prescribing these sport supplements to athletes, they are unintentionally sending the message that the use of performance enhancing substances is an acceptable practice in sport.

"“This may lead athletes to believe that the use of other banned substances, such as anabolic steroids, are acceptable.

"Given these results of research, anti-doping organisations, such as UK Anti-Doping and the World Anti-Doping Agency, should educate athletes and sport practitioners about the risks associated with sport supplement use to prevent atheltes from progressing to doping in the future."

Dr Philip Hurst, Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology and Life Sciences

Co-author Christopher Ring, Professor in Psychology at the University of Birmingham, commented: “Our results have important implications for coaches, nutritionists and sport doctors - they must appreciate that athletes who are administered ergogenic and medical sport supplements may develop more favourable attitudes towards doping.

“An athlete using these supplements may come to believe that using chemically active substances is an acceptable way of enhancing sport performance. This belief could then later develop into a rationalisation that doping is just another means to enhance performance.”

Two in five athletes surveyed (42%) used ergogenic supplements, whereas one in five used medical sport supplements (18%) and sport foods and drinks (21%). Superfoods were rarely used (2%). Over half (53%) used at least one sport supplement.

Researchers note that future research such explore how use of one supplement type may lead to another and eventually the use of banned substances - for example, superfood use leads to ergogenic and medical supplement use, which may in turn, lead to doping.

Media contact

Emma Grafton-Williams
Media Relations Officer
T: +44 (0)1227 923528

Connect with us

Last edited: 15/01/2020 11:19:00