82 per cent of Finnish competitive athletes had taken nutritional supplements and 62 per cent had taken medication during the week preceding a doping test. One athlete had used up to nine different medicational products and another 58 different nutritional supplements. These were a few of the findings of a recent master’s thesis in which the author studied the extent of and contributing factors to the use of medicinal products and nutritional supplements among competitive athletes.
A study by Marja Koponen, soon-to-graduate Master of Health Sciences, at the University of Jyväskylä, showed that athletes in endurance sports consume more medication and athletes in team sports less nutritional supplements compared to other athlete groups. Women use more medicinal products than men. No difference between the genders was observed in the use of nutritional supplements.
Earlier studies have shown that Finnish athletes take a lot of prescription medication. The new study shows that over the counter medication is popular as well. No similar study has been carried out in Finland before with the research material consisting of doping control forms.
“I was surprised by the widespread use of medication and nutritional supplements. It is understandable that athletes take nutritional supplements, but we need to ask why they are taken in such large quantities and whether the supplements taken are beneficial or not. One is inclined to wonder what kind of role a balanced diet has in the everyday life of an athlete who uses a lot of nutritional supplements,” Marja Koponen says. Koponen herself has played ringette at the highest level.
“Despite the extensive use of nutritional supplements, none of the athletes who participated in the study gave a positive doping sample for nutritional supplements. However, before starting to use nutritional supplements, athletes should always try to determine whether they really need them and what are the risks associated with them. Nutritional supplements are known to contain prohibited substances which are not listed in the product label. One must also bear in mind that information on the Internet on nutritional supplements often exaggerates their usefulness and downplays the risks,” says Timo Seppälä, Medical Director at the Finnish Center for Integrity in Sports FINCIS (formerly known as FINADA).
Marja Koponen’s study was a collaborative research project carried out in cooperation with the University of Jyväskylä and the Finnish Antidoping Agency FINADA. The initiative came from FINADA who wanted to obtain data on athletes’ use of medication and nutritional supplements for the purposes of improving training and education and promoting athletes’ health.
The research material consisted of doping test forms of 679 Finnish competitive athletes tested in 2014.
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