Current Research in Supplements
for Athletes

Marie Dunford, PhD, RD

This interactive course is designed to teach you a process for evaluating the safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements. You'll learn the advantages and disadvantages of using dietary supplements and explain these to the athletes with whom you work. The course is supplemented by eleven research articles about dietary supplements. These articles summarize the scientific research on dietary supplements and provide you with information about the chemical mechanism, recommended dosage, and potential side effects.

Virtual athletes in the course will inquire about dietary supplements. After reading a short article about each supplement you'll be able to respond to the athletes' questions about the active ingredient(s), physiological mechanisms, and scientific research for each of the dietary supplements. You'll also determine the type of athlete whose performance will benefit or be harmed by the supplement. You'll learn to recognize the recommended dosage and protocol and you'll be able to outline the potential side effects associated with dietary supplements.

The focus of this course is trained athletes. However, Unit 6 is devoted to recreational athletes. There is more supplement research conducted on highly trained athletes than on recreational athletes. Because training is an important variable, results from studies in highly trained athletes should not be extrapolated to recreational athletes.

Eleven supplements are covered in this course. Three of the supplements (androstenedione, DHEA, and ephedra) are not found in food. Three others (creatine, chromium, and pyruvate) are found in food, but the dose of the supplement is not adjusted based on the amount a person might obtain from food. The remaining five (protein, calcium, iron, vitamin C, and vitamin E) are found in food and the amounts contained in food should be considered. A dietary analysis is a helpful tool to estimate the amount of nutrients an athlete currently consumes through diet. The Food Guide Pyramid, although less accurate than a dietary analysis, can be used to identify potential nutrient deficiencies. Its use with a recreational athlete is illustrated in unit 6.

The prerequisite knowledge that will enable you to take full advantage of this course includes:

  1. Understanding of the scientific method
  2. Understanding of the physiological processes of digestion, absorption, and metabolism; the basic principles of energy systems and the substrates involved; and the anabolism and catabolism of muscle and adipose tissues
  3. Understanding of basic principles of nutrition including the role of calories, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water
  4. Understanding of exercise physiology principles related to intensity and duration of exercise
  5. Understanding of all competencies listed on pages 59-63 of the NATA's Athletic Training Educational Competencies

The first three units of this course establish a foundation for evaluating and making recommendations about dietary supplements. Units 4-6 provide you with opportunities to determine the type of athlete whose performance may benefit from taking dietary supplements. Units 4-6 may be completed in any order.

Unit 1: Evaluating Dietary Supplements. You'll learn how to help a collegiate football player trying to increase his muscle mass and lose body fat in the off-season. You'll learn a process to help the athletes you work with make informed decisions about dietary supplements. By the end of this unit, you'll understand the role of the certified athletic trainer in helping athletes evaluate dietary supplements, the ethical issues associated with this process, and the risk/benefit ratio associated with the use of dietary supplements.

Unit 2: Regulating Supplements. You'll learn how the Food and Drug Administration regulates dietary supplements. The terms used to describe dietary supplements will be explained. You'll learn how to interpret the Supplement Facts and the Principal Display Panel on dietary supplements labels. The NCAA bylaws on nutritional supplements are discussed. You'll learn how to calculate the percentage of protein contained in an energy bar and determine whether or not this product is permissible under the NCAA bylaws.

Unit 3: Creatine Monohydrate. You'll work with a football player, a wrestler, and a female distance swimmer, who are considering taking creatine supplements to have more energy available to fuel their exercise. You'll discuss creatine monohydrate with these athletes and explain the scientific research, chemical mechanism, dosage, and potential side effects. You'll judge the safety and effectiveness of this dietary supplement. You'll also help these athletes understand the type of athlete who may benefit from this supplement.

Unit 4: Supplements to Build Muscle and Increase Strength. You'll begin this unit by reviewing the mechanisms for increasing muscle size and strength. After that, you'll work with a shot putter and discuss the scientific research, chemical mechanism, dosage, and potential side effects associated with protein, androstenedione, DHEA, and chromium picolinate. You'll judge the safety and effectiveness of these dietary supplements. You'll also help this athlete understand the type of athlete who may benefit from these supplements.

Unit 5: Supplements to Lose Body Fat. You'll discuss using pyruvate, ephedra, and "fat burning supplements" with a high school swimmer and his parents. As you discuss these supplements, you'll begin by reviewing the mechanisms for decreasing body fat. Then, you'll explain the scientific research, chemical mechanism, dosage, and potential side effects. You'll judge the safety and effectiveness of these dietary supplements. You'll also help this athlete to understand the type of athlete who may benefit from these supplements.

Unit 6: Supplements to Improve a Poor Dietary Intake. The focus of this unit will be your conversations with a recreational tennis player. Your first step will be determining whether or not the athlete's current diet is lacking in nutrients. You'll explain the scientific research, chemical mechanism, dosage, and potential side effects associated with calcium, iron, vitamin C, and vitamin E. You'll judge the safety and effectiveness of these dietary supplements. You'll also help this recreational athlete understand the type of athlete who may benefit from these supplements.

Course Test. Finally, you'll take an exam over the process of evaluating the safety and effectiveness of and making recommendations to athletes about the use of dietary supplements.

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