The use of drugs and nutritional supplements in top-level track and field athletes

Am J Sports Med. 2010 Jan;38(1):133-40. doi: 10.1177/0363546509344071. Epub 2009 Oct 7.


Background: High use of medication and nutritional supplements has been reported in several sports.

Purpose: To document the use of prescribed medication and nutritional supplements in female and male junior, youth, and adult track and field athletes depending on their sports discipline.

Study design: Descriptive epidemiology study.

Methods: Analysis of 3 887 doping control forms undertaken during 12 International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships and 1 out-of-competitions season in track and field.

Results: There were 6 523 nutritional supplements (1.7 per athlete) and 3 237 medications (0.8 per athlete) reported. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs; 0.27 per athlete, n = 884), respiratory drugs (0.21 per athlete, n = 682), and alternative analgesics (0.13, n = 423) were used most frequently. Medication use increased with age (0.33 to 0.87 per athlete) and decreased with increasing duration of the event (from sprints to endurance events; 1.0 to 0.63 per athlete). African and Asian track and field athletes reported using significantly fewer supplements (0.85 vs 1.93 per athlete) and medications (0.41 vs 0.96 per athlete) than athletes from other continents. The final ranking in the championships was unrelated to the quantity of reported medications or supplements taken. Compared with middle-distance and long-distance runners, athletes in power and sprint disciplines reported using more NSAIDs, creatine, and amino acids, and fewer antimicrobial agents.

Conclusion: The use of NSAIDs in track and field is less than that reported for team-sport events. However, nutritional supplements are used more than twice as often as they are in soccer and other multisport events; this inadvertently increases the risk of positive results of doping tests.

Clinical relevance: It is essential that an evidence-based approach to the prescribing of medication and nutritional supplements is adopted to protect the athletes' health and prevent them from testing positive in doping controls.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Athletic Performance
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Creatine
  • Dietary Supplements / statistics & numerical data*
  • Doping in Sports*
  • Drug Prescriptions
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Male
  • Nutritional Status
  • Respiratory System Agents
  • Track and Field*


  • Amino Acids
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Respiratory System Agents
  • Creatine