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Nutritional supplement use by elite young UK athletes: fallacies of advice regarding efficacy

Andrea Petróczi1*, Declan P Naughton1, Gemma Pearce2, Richard Bailey3, Andrew Bloodworth4 and Michael McNamee4

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Science, Kingston University, Penrhyn Road, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, KT1 2EE, UK

2 School of Sport & Exercise Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK

3 School of Education, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK

4 Department of Philosophy, Humanities and Law in Healthcare, School of Health Science, Swansea University, Swansea, SA2 8PP, UK

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Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2008, 5:22  doi:10.1186/1550-2783-5-22

Published: 15 December 2008



The objective was to study nutritional supplement use among young elite UK athletes to establish whether a rationale versus practice incongruence exists, and to investigate the sources of information. Survey data were analysed for association between supplements used and motives for using such substances among young athletes along with the sources of advice and literature precedents on supplement effects.


Participants were elite UK male and female athletes, within the age range between 12 and 21 (n = 403), mean age 17.66 ± 1.99. Associations between type of supplements and reasons for using supplements were tested by calculating Pearson's χ2 and the strength of these symmetric associations shown by phi (ϕ) association coefficients.


Single supplement use was reported by 48.1%, with energy drinks being the most popular, consumed by 41.7% of all athletes and 86.6% of the supplement users in the sample. No agreement was observed between athletes' rationale and behaviour in relation to nutritional supplements except for creatine. Among health professionals, nutritionists and physiotherapists, followed by coaches, were most frequently consulted. Answers regarding reasons and supplements used showed incongruence and suggest widespread misinformation regarding supplements and their effects is an issue for the young athlete.


Widespread supplement taking behaviour was evidenced in the young elite athlete population with the most notable congruence between rationale and practice among young athletes being performance-related. Young athletes in the present sample appear to be less 'health conscious' and more 'performance focused' than their adult counterparts. Further research, using a full list of supplements, is warranted to test the hypothesis that health consciousness is less dominant in supplement choice by young athletes.