According to the American Dietetic Association, Dieticians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine (2000), only people who severely restrict their energy intake, use severe weight-loss practices, eliminate one or more food groups from their diet, consume high carbohydrate diets and low micronutrient density should require a form of dietary supplement. In addition to this it has been reported that individuals who maintain a physically active lifestyle do not need additional nutrients besides of what they consume within a balanced diet (Rockwell et al 2001). So how is it, as folk disperse from the gym, they appear to be rehearsing for a cocktail making class? Ranges of Nutritional supplement use have been reported between 13.8% to as high as 88.4% among gym users (Ebrahimi 2009).So many questions linger with regard to this topic. What are the trends regarding the use of supplements among gym users? Do people actually know what they are consuming and their reason for doing so? Is a balanced diet not considered enough despite its efficiency in the name – ‘balanced’? The purpose of this article is to not condemn the use of supplements among gym users, but to merely create an understanding regarding the trends of supplement use among gym users, the source of knowledge in selecting these supplements and to generate some guidelines when selecting supplements for training purposes.

Supplement Use Trends

On a daily basis, supplements are advertised and commercialized as having a wide range of purposes claiming to improve performance, increase muscle mass, decrease body fat, maintain or lose weight, prevent illness and disease, boost immunity, accelerate recovery and overall assist in perceived magical results, often times compensating for inadequate dietary intake (Goston and Correia 2010). Consistently throughout the literature, the consumption of supplements is reported as being more common among males than females (Oliver et al 2011; Schofield and Unruh 2006). Since ancient Greek times, there has been an association between protein intake and strength gains. In accordance with Applegate and Grivetti (1997) and Ciocca (2005), protein may be the most consumed dietary component in the form of an ergogenic aid. In a study from Goston (2010), investigating supplement use among gym users in Brazil, individuals who reported using supplements were young and healthy who rated their eating habits as being good or excellent with a regular exercise regime with the goal of maintaining health and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle. This finding immediately provokes the thought of whether or not individuals actually understand what a balanced diet is and whether or not they are fully aware of what supplements contain along with the real indications for their use. A gap exists in the literature regarding this understanding among gym users specifically.

Who Consumes What?

Being the most popular supplement among males, amino acids and proteins are essential for the synthesis of several body structures and are involved in many metabolic mechanisms. However, consumption of these without an appropriate exercise regimen is not enough to increase body mass and strength. In addition, calorie intake is essential to achieve a positive protein balance in the skeletal muscle of those part-taking in resistance exercise. According to the literature, athletes require extra protein in their diet through food or in supplement form (Tarnopolsky 2006; Kreider et al 2004). Those who regularly use the gym do not require this additional protein. Protein requirements range from 1.0g/kg/bw to 2.0g/kg/bw depending on the individual needs and athletic level. While protein optimizes glycogen storage in the muscle promoting muscle repair and restoration post workout, where consumption is greater than required, the amino acid carbon skeleton may be strayed by energy production or excreted as humans do not have a protein reserve compartment. In addition, where protein is consumed in excess, this can lead to ketosis, gout, overloading of the kidneys, increased body fat, dehydration, urinary excretion of calcium and loss of bone mass (Nemet et al 2003). With that, gym users should review their diet concluding whether or not it fulfils a ‘balanced diet’ and from there, assess their protein needs. Where protein supplementation is required, it must be consumed alongside a precisely structured exercise regime.

Among the female population, it is the supplementation of multivitamins and minerals that are most common (Goston and Correia 2010; Morrison et al 2004; Slater et al 2003).While it is portrayed that such supplements provide energy, prevent illness, assist in weight loss, improve sports performance and promote increased muscle mass (Resenbloom 2002), the scientific evidence behind these statements is lacking. Use of supplements claimed as being ‘natural’ may undermine the bioavailability of other nutrients and the effectiveness of some medications when taken in excess (Millen et al 2004). In addition, these commercial supplements may contain too much or not enough of the vitamin and/or mineral in question as well as the possibility of containing contaminants.

Information Source

Reported by Goston and Correia (2010), 43% of individuals report receiving guidance regarding supplementation from a nutritionist, with the remaining 57% consuming supplements without any professional guidance. Their decisions were influenced by trainers and the media. da Rocha and Pereira (1998) assessed the sources of information used by university students in relation to their supplementation use, finding 78% having never received guidance from a nutritionist and 70% of this group stating that they would have preferred professional guidance. Perhaps this is an area the fitness industry needs to alert their attention to; providing a nutritionist to clients where this is not already available. This will ensure safe practices among gym users along with assisting them with informed choices in reaching and maintaining a balanced diet.

Recommendation Guidelines

In recommending nutritional substances, this should be done on an individual basis. While it seems to be the fashion, supplement use is not required for everyone.

1.)   Know your goal – are you attempting weight loss? Weight gain? Physique maintenance?

2.)   Take a look at your diet; is it balanced? Keep a food diary and note elements that are missing or that you have too much of

3.)   Monitor portion size, frequency of meals and snacking foods

4.)   Take note of your lifestyle – predominantly active or sedentary?

5.)   From there, present this information to a nutritionist and seek advice on whether or not you should add any supplements to your diet and exercise regime

6.)   Otherwise, try and source what you get in a supplement from your foods in a natural way

To conclude, those who are engaged in regular exercise and structured dietary plans will know and are aware of the range of supplements that are available to us at our fingertips. Ironically, it is the people who are not part of this lifestyle that are probably in most need of these supplements due to poor eating habits. For gym users, the trends presented see males being the dominant consumer of protein and amino acid supplements, while females consume multivitamins and minerals mostly. Much of these choices are influenced by the media and those not educated specifically in the field of nutrition. Those conscious of their health and striving to maintain and improve their physique along with preventing disease should assess their diet first before purchasing supplements and where feasible, seek professional advice. Everyone’s needs are individual and so where a supplement is required should be based on one person’s diet and lifestyle and not just because it ‘seems’ a necessity.

ReferencesShow all

American Dietetic Association. Dietitians of Canada, American College of Sports Medicine. Nutrition and athletic performance. (2000) Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 100, pp. 1543–1556.

Applegate, E.A. and Grivetti, L.E. (1997) Search for the competitive edge: a history of dietary fads and supplements. Journal of Nutrition, 127, pp. 869–873.

Ciocca M. (2005) Medication and supplement use by athletes. Clinical Sports Medicine, 24, pp. 719–38.

da Rocha, L. P., & Pereira, M. V. L. (1998). Consumo de suplementos nutricionais por praticantes de exercícios físicos em academias. Revolution Nutrition,11(1).

Ebrahimi, M. (2009). Anabolic steroid exposure of athletes of Qom, Iran, through performance enhancing drug use. Research Journal of Environmental Toxicology, 3(1), pp. 50–55.

Goston, J.L. and Correia, M.I.T.D. (2010) Intake of nutritional supplements among people exercising in gyms and influencing factors. Nutrition, 26, pp. 604-611.

Kreider, R.B., Almada, A.L., Craig Broeder, J.A., Earnest, C., Greenwood, M., Incledon, T. (2004) ISSN exercise and sport nutrition review: research and recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 1, 1–44.

Millen, A.E., Dodd, K.W., Subar, A.F. (2004) Use of vitamin, mineral, non-vitamin, and non-mineral supplements in the United States: the 1987, 1992, and 2000 National Health Interview Survey results. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 104, pp. 942–950.

Morrison, L.J., Gizis, F., Shorter, B. (2004) Prevalent use of dietary supplements among people who exercise at a commercial gym. International Journal of Sport Nutrition Exercise Metabolism, 14, pp. 481-492.

Nemet, D.,Wolach, B., Eliakim, A. (2005) Proteins and amino acid supplementation in sports: are they truly necessary? The Israel Medical Association Journal, 7, pp. 328–332.

Oliver, A.S., Miranda Leon, M., Guerra-Hernandez, E. (2011) Prevalence of protein supplement use at gyms. Nutricion Hospitalaria, 26(5), pp. 1168-1174.

Rockwell, M.S., Nichols-richardson, S.M., Thye, F.W. (2001) Nutrition knowledge, opinions, and practices of coaches and athletic trainers at a division I university. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 11, pp. 174–85.

Rosenbloom, C.A., Jonnalagadda, S.S., Skinner, R. Nutrition knowledge of collegiate athletes in a Division I National Collegiate Athletic Association Institution. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 102, pp. 418–420.

Scofield, D.E., Unruh, S. (2006) Dietary supplement use among adolescent athletes in central Nebraska and their sources of information. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20, pp. 452–455.

Slater, G., Tan, B., Teh, K.C. (2003) Dietary supplementation practices of Sigaporean athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition Exercise Metabolism, 13, pp. 320–332.

Tarnopolsky, M. (2006) Protein and amino acid needs for training and bulking up. In: Burke L, Deakin V, editors. Clinical sports nutrition. 3rd ed. Sydney, Australia: McGraw-Hill, pp. 73–111.

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