Metabolomics profiling of xenobiotics in elite athletes: relevance to supplement consumption

J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 Sep 27;15(1):48. doi: 10.1186/s12970-018-0254-7.


Background: Supplements are widely used among elite athletes to maintain health and improve performance. Despite multiple studies investigating use of dietary supplements by athletes, a comprehensive profiling of serum supplement metabolites in elite athletes is still lacking. This study aims to analyze the presence of various xenobiotics in serum samples from elite athletes of different sports, focusing on metabolites that potentially originate from nutritional supplements.

Methods: Profiling of xenobiotics in serum samples from 478 elite athletes from different sports (football, athletics, cycling, rugby, swimming, boxing and rowing) was performed using non-targeted metabolomics-based mass spectroscopy combined with ultrahigh-performance liquid chromatography. Multivariate analysis was performed using orthogonal partial least squares discriminant analysis. Differences in metabolic levels among different sport groups were identified by univariate linear models.

Results: Out of the 102 detected xenobiotics, 21 were significantly different among sport groups including metabolites that potentially prolong exercise tolerance (caffeic acid), carry a nootropic effect (2-pyrrolidinone), exert a potent anti-oxidant effect (eugenol, ferulic acid 4 sulfate, thioproline, retinol), or originate from drugs for different types of injuries (ectoine, quinate). Using Gaussian graphical modelling, a metabolic network that links various sport group-associated xenobiotics was constructed to further understand their metabolic pathways.

Conclusions: This pilot data provides evidence that athletes from different sports exhibit a distinct xenobiotic profile that may reflect their drug/supplement use, diet and exposure to various chemicals. Because of limitation in the study design, replication studies are warranted to confirm results in independent data sets, aiming ultimately for better assessment of dietary supplement use by athletes.

Keywords: Athletes; Metabolomics; Nutritional supplements; Sport; Xenobiotics.

MeSH terms

  • Athletes
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolomics*
  • Sports
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Xenobiotics / blood*


  • Xenobiotics