Nutritional Supplements use in Elite Gymnasts
S. Zaggelidis1, K. Martinidis2, G.Zaggelidis1, T. Mitropoulou1
1. TEFAA, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, 2. TEFAA,
Democritus University of Thrace, Greece
The aim of this study was to examine the use of ergogenic nutritional
supplements in elite gymnasts. Thirty one elite athletes (10 males and
21 females, mean aged (19.3+-1.4 years) volunteered to participate in
the study and were asked to complete a questionnaire. Information was
collected on the type of supplements that athletes preferred to use,
the frequency, the period of consumption, the reasons for supplement
use and the possible positive or negative effects and side-effects of
these ergogenic aids on their performance and health. The results have
shown that 58% of the sample had taken nutritional supplements,
basically during all periods. The most frequently used supplements were
vitamins and calcium, while fats were the least used, particularly
among females. The reason that gymnasts used these supplements, mainly
following their doctor’s recommendation, was to meet their training
expectations. More than half of the subjects (54.8%) were not aware of
the prohibited substances list, while the 25% of the sample reported
that they would have taken supplements for team needs and 12% for
glory. In conclusion, a significant percentage of elite gymnasts are
familiar with the use of ergogenic nutritional aids.
Key worlds: gymnasts, nutritional
supplements, ergogenic aids.
Nutrition, alongside a systematic training process is vital to
performance. Gymnastics is a sport requiring strength, flexibility,
coordination and grace, in the case of women. The emphasis on thinness
and appearance encourages the gymnasts to closely focus on their weight
and caloric intake. This practice is of concern because it may lead to
an insufficient energy intake. For most dietary supplements, there is
little or no evidence that they can enhance sports performance.
However, a few supplements may really help (Rosenbloom, 2002).
The energy demands of gymnastics are relatively low when compared to
dynamic exercises such as running or swimming, as gymnastics is
predominantly an anaerobic sport, being classified as 80%–90% anaerobic
(Sharkey, 1986; Fox and Matthews, 1974). Hence, the major energy
supplies are the phosphagen stores and anaerobic glycolysis (Montpetit,
1976). Still, gymnastic training sessions are of a long duration. A
survey of elite American female gymnasts showed that they were
undertaking heavy training loads, whilst consuming too few calories and
inadequate levels of vital nutrients (Howells.and Thompson 2002). In
another survey with elite Swiss gymnasts, a calorie deficiency of 725
kcals per day was reported (Howells and Thompson 2002). The ability to
gain adequate nutrients from a moderate calorie intake is often lacking
in elite gymnasts, leading to vitamin, mineral and potential
carbohydrate deficiencies (Howell S., 2000). On the other hand,
athletes indulge in the use of supplementary, mainly ergogenic,
substances in order to improve performance. These include
carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids, vitamins minerals and ergogenics.
Recent studies have shown that a great number of athletes using these
substances are not well informed about the safety of these products,
their ways of acting and their side effects (Kim and Keen, 1999,
Cardoso et al., 1998, Silber,1999,).
Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the use of dietary
supplements taken by elite gymnasts, the source of information and the
knowledge concerning the side effects.
SUBJECTS AND METHOD
Thirty one elite gymnasts, aged 19.3+-1.4 years old (10 male and 21
female) volunteered to participate in the study. A confidential
questionnaire was administered to all subjects.
The questionnaire contained 18 questions, categorized in 4 subgroups:
a) The first subgroup incorporated questions of general content: sex,
age and years of pastime with sport activities.
b) The second subgroup incorporated questions regarding sports
nutrition and the use of ergogenic aids.
c) The third subgroup incorporated questions regarding the reasons of
taking ergogenic aids and the knowledge of their side effects.
d) The last subgroup incorporated 3 questions regarding the use of
prohibited substances by the athletes.
Descriptive statistics included chi square (x²) test. The
Statistical Package for Social Sciences 12.0 for Windows was used (SPSS
Inc. Chicago, IL.). The level of significance was fixed at p<0.05.
The athletes had an average 10.71±2.73 years of training
experience with gymnastics. Their somatometric characteristics are
presented in Table 1:
SOMATOMETRIC CHARACTERISTICS OF
61.3% of the athletes followed a proper diet all through the year.
58.1% of the gymnasts admitted taking ergogenic supplements. More than
half of the latter, especially in males (up to 80%), used ergogenic
resorts during all periods. With regard to the sex parameter, subjects
took supplements from a different perspective in relation to periods of
the year (p<.05).
Regarding the reasoning for using ergogenic resorts, there was a
statistically significant difference (p<.05) in the way they were
described, between the two sexes, as it is depicted in the Table 2.
REASONS OF ERGOGENIC RESORTS USE
|Improvement of performance
|Demands of training
|Reduction of bodily fat
|Increase of muscular mass
The use of ergogenic resorts was under a doctor's suggestion (47.2%),
especially in females (47.6%). From a given 58.1% of users, 72.2%
reported positive effects, while 88.9% reported no side effects.
The most frequently used supplements were vitamins and calcium in
general. Carbohydrates and proteins were more common for women, and
iron for men. Fats were the least used, particularly among females. As
to water consumption, 67.7% drank 1 – 2 liters daily.
More than half of the subjects (54.8%) were not aware of the prohibited
substances list. Our gymnasts thought that users were mainly familiar
with vitamins (93.5%) and creatin (41.9%). Finally, 25% of the sample
reported that they would have taken supplements for team needs and 12%
In general, the findings of this study come to an agreement with the
outcomes of previous studies. As Howells (2002) notes, elite gymnasts
will undertake 11-12 training sessions each week, lasting from 40
minutes to 3 hours each. This is the principal reason for which our
subjects permanently follow a careful diet. Supplementation can benefit
certain groups of individuals. Those individuals include people who
restrict their calories such as runners, dancers, gymnasts and
wrestlers to maintain a low body weight; (Drewke, 2002). Therefore, a
gymnast’s diet should, ideally, provide sufficient calories and
nutrients to support the combined requirements of activity, tissue
maintenance and, possibly, growth but no more than that (Howells,
2002). More than half of the subjects in our sample that used ergogenic
resorts, especially with males, did so during all periods.
In many cases our elite gymnasts did not know what they consumed, but
they had confidence in the doctor mainly, and in a relatively small
percentage, in their trainer. There is ample research with regard to
the use of ergogenic aids in various categories. In research done
in Norway and in Switzerland, on athletes from other individual or team
sports, it was found that the trainer was, as much for the men
(58%) as for the women athletes (52%), the person that mainly proposed
the use of alimentary supplements (Jundgod-Borgen, et al, 2002 ).
With regard to the sex parameter, the subjects in this study took
supplements with a different perspective in relation to periods of the
year. Characteristic is the differences that are presented in the
preferences of athletes with regard to the type of ergogenic aids. The
most common supplements were vitamins and calcium in general. Calcium
is critical for bone growth and strength and it can help to prevent
stress fractures in gymnasts. (Rosenbloom, 2004). Carbohydrates and
proteins were also commonly used by women, while iron was used by the
men. Fats were the least used, particularly among females. The
consumption of carbohydrates helps in the prevention of the premature
appearance of hypoglycaemia, while it extends the period that the
muscle can use carbohydrates as a source of energy and consequently
improves output (Conlee, 1987).
Research studies on supplements rarely include young athletes, so that
little is known about the effect of supplements intake. In other
individual as well as team sports it appears that the majority of
athletes know enough about ergogenic aids. ( Schroder , et al.,
2002 and Sundgod-Borgen, at al, 2002). In this study, it appears
that a satisfactory percentage of the athletes were informed of
the negative results upon their health from the use of ergogenic aids.
From a given 58.1% of users, 72.2% had positive effects, while 88.9%
declared no side effects. It has been suggested that the excessive
intake of certain ergogenic substances can lead to the advent of
disturbances to the organism, such as diarrhoea, hindrance to the
absorption and the metabolism of amino-acids, and hindrance of release
of free fatty acids, which is of particular consideration for the
production of energy ( Slavin , at al, 1988).
Athletes consume a large percentage of vitamins, because of the
existing impression that they need more vitamins than other persons in
order to achieve their ideal output. Α number of studies have shown
that gymnasts, especially females, often consume levels of vitamins and
minerals which are below the recommended levels (Constantini et al,
2000; Bernadot et al, 1989). However, only the simple sufficiency of
vitamins, and not an excess, increases output (Baehner and al.,
1977, Bogden and al., 1990, Chandra , 1984, Prasad, 1980, Belko, 1987
). Athletes who have normal stores of vitamins will not benefit from
consuming vitamin supplements. (Benardot , at al , 2004).
Finally, from the results of the present study, it is realised that
there exists an individualised preference in the type of ergogenic
substances used by the gymnasts. Our gymnasts contemplate that users
are mainly familiar with vitamins (93.5%) and creatin (41.9%). More
than half of the subjects (54.8%) are not aware of the prohibited
substances list. Finally, 25% would make use of supplements for team
needs and 12% for glory.
Deductively, an important percentage of athletes in gymnastics use
ergogenic aids alongside with their usual diet. Athletes should look at
suitable alternatives to taking supplements, the main one of course
being a balanced and healthy diet.
Sports dieticians can play a key role in educating gymnasts, parents
and coaches regarding the unique nutritional requirements of junior and
senior gymnasts. Nutrition lectures must focus on energy balance
through food intake, adapted to the special needs of the sport (i.e.
excessive calcium and iron requirements in the case of female gymnasts).
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