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. 2016 Jan;46(1):103-123.
doi: 10.1007/s40279-015-0387-7.

Prevalence of Dietary Supplement Use by Athletes: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Free PMC article

Prevalence of Dietary Supplement Use by Athletes: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Joseph J Knapik et al. Sports Med. .
Free PMC article


Background: Dietary supplements (DSs) are commercially available products consumed as an addition to the usual diet and are frequently ingested by athletes.

Objective: Our objective was to examine the prevalence of DS use by athletes.

Data sources: PubMed, Ovid MEDLINE, OVID Healthstar, and Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health were searched for original research articles published up to August 2014. Search terms included specific sports, specific DSs, and other terms.

Study selection: Studies were selected if they were written in English, involved athletes, and provided a quantitative assessment of the proportion of athletes using specific DSs. Percent of athletes using specific DSs.

Synthesis of data: Methodological quality of studies was assessed by three reviewers using an 8-point scale that included evaluations for sampling methods, sampling frame, sample size, measurement tools, bias, response rate, statistical presentation, and description of the participant sample. Where there were at least two investigations, meta-analysis was performed to obtain summary (pooled) prevalence estimates (SPEs) on (1) DS use prevalence by sport and sex, (2) DS use prevalence by elite versus non-elite athletic status, and (3) specific DS prevalence for all athletic groups combined. Meta-analyses included evaluations of homogeneity and publication bias.

Results: A total of 159 unique studies met the review criteria. Methodological quality was generally low with an average ± standard deviation of 43 ± 16% of available rating points. There was low homogeneity for SPEs when compiled by sport, athletic status, and/or specific DSs. Contributing to the lack of homogeneity were differences in studies' objectives and types of assessments used (e.g., dietary surveys, interviews, questionnaires). Despite these limitations, the data generally indicated that elite athletes used DSs much more than their non-elite counterparts. For most DSs, use prevalence was similar for men and women except that a larger proportion of women used iron while a larger proportion of men used vitamin E, protein, and creatine. No consistent change in use over time was observed because even the earliest investigations showed relatively high use prevalence.

Conclusion: It was difficult to generalize regarding DS use by athletes because of the lack of homogeneity among studies. Nonetheless, the data suggested that elite athletes used dietary supplements far more than their non-elite counterparts; use was similar for men and women with a few exceptions; use appeared to change little over time; and a larger proportion of athletes used DSs compared with the general US population. Improvements in study methodology should be considered in future studies especially (1) defining DSs for participants; (2) querying for very specific DSs; (3) using a variety of reporting timeframes (e.g., daily, 2-6 times/week, 1 time/week and <1 time/week); (4) reporting the sampling frame, number of individuals solicited, and number responding; (5) reporting characteristics of volunteers (and non-volunteers, if available); and (6) using similar methods on several occasions to examine possible temporal trends among athletes.


Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Publications included and excluded at each stage of literature review

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