Jan 29, 2015
Supplemental Knowledge

By Patrick Bohn

According to recent reports, the nutritional supplement industry continues to grow at a rapid rate. But are athletes using them wisely?

According to a recent report titled “The Global Market for Sports Performance and Energy Products,” the U.S. sports supplement market currently sits at $2.95 billion, the largest in the world. Much of that number comes from energy/health bars, which account for $1.2 billion. On the liquid side, the report notes that the amount of sports drinks consumed is dropping, while energy drinks pick up the slack.

But according to some researchers, the physical benefit of all these supplements may be minimal thanks to an overindulgence in certain behaviors by those who take them. Wen-Bin Chiou of National Sun Yat-Sen University set up an experiment testing the behaviors of individuals who believed they had been given a multivitamin. Chiou found that those individuals were less likely engage in subsequent healthy behaviors.

“To put it simply, people who take dietary supplements may have the misconception that they are invulnerable to health problems and may make poor decisions when it comes to their health,” Chiou said in the study.

Some supplements, like creatine, may even cause health issues. Sports physician Lewis Maharam, the former president of the New York chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine, posits that the use of these types of legal supplements is responsible for a rash of oblique injuries in Major League Baseball.

“My theory is that drug testing in Major League Baseball is working and people are getting away from using illegal steroids,” Maharam told the New York Daily News. “They are moving to legal products such as creatine, but they don’t know how to use it in conjunction with their workouts.”‘

And legal supplements are only part of the story. Steroid use is still garnering attention in the news, especially at the high school level. However, there may be conflicting information about how widespread use actually is. Some estimates say as many as 13 percent of teens playing high school football could be using steroids. But those high numbers aren’t specific to males on the gridiron. Steroid use among high school female basketball players may be as high as 8.8 percent.

However, recent results in Texas present a much brighter outlook on the frequency of steroid use. In the most recent round of tests last fall, the state tested more than 2,000 athletes at 135 schools and only one came back positive.

These numbers appear right in line with previous tests, including one from 2008 in which 10,000 athletes yielded two positive tests. All told, the state has conducted over 50,000 tests and has had fewer than 30 confirmed cases. The lack of positive results has sparked debate as to the viability of continuing the expensive tests.

Patrick Bohn is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning.

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