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There’s no doubt that supplements are popular. There are countless people that use supplements, so you are definitely not alone out there. Maybe something of interest to know is what other, like-minded people out there, are taking. In this article we’ll take a look at how many people actually use supplements, the top supplements used by bodybuilders and athletes, how supplement use differs between men and women and between countries, the reasons and benefits of using such supplements, and how much people actually know about supplements.

Number of People that Use Supplements

First of all, let’s look at how many bodybuilders and athletes use supplements.

Country

Athlete Type

Percentage

Reference

Korea

Elite bodybuilders

78

Cho & Lee, 2008

USA

Competitive bodybuilders

98

Brill & Keane, 1994

Iran

Bodybuilders

49

Karimian & Esfahani, 2011

Korea

Elite weight lifters

79

Cho & Lee, 2008

Poland

Gym goers

81

Chlopicka et al, 2007

Brazil

Gym goers

37

Goston & Correia, 2010

Lebanon

Gym goers

36

Khoury & Antoine-Jonville, 2012

Various

Olympic athletes (VS)

73

Heikkinen, 2011

Canada

Olympic athletes (VS)

74

Huang et al, 2006

Korea

Olympic athletes (VS)

82

Kim et al, 2011

Australia

Elite athletes (VS)

88

Dascombe et al, 2010

Sri Lanka

Elite athletes (VS)

94

Silva et al, 2010

USA

Army Special Forces

90

Bovill et al, 2003

USA

College athletes (VS)

89

Froiland et al, 2004

USA

College athletes (VS)

88

Burns et al, 2004

Canada

College athletes (VS)

99

Kristiansen et al, 2005

UK

Young elite athletes (VS)

48

Petroczi et al, 2008

VS = Various sports

From the above table we can see how widespread supplement use is all over the world. Supplements appear to be popular in all studied groups. Instances where the percentage of overall supplement usage appears low, it is actually a result of low supplement usage among women only. Women appear to be less attracted to supplement use and as a result bring down average supplement use. For example, 87% of male bodybuilders in Iran use supplement, while only 11% of women supplement (Karimian & Esfahani, 2011). We will discuss this in more detail a little later.

Top Supplements Used by Men

The following table shows a list of top three supplements used by male bodybuilders and athletes.

Country

Athlete Type

Top 3 supplements (in order)

Reference

Korea

Elite bodybuilders

Protein, vitamins, creatine

Cho & Lee, 2008

USA

Competitive bodybuilders

Vitamins, protein, amino acids

Brill & Keane, 1994

Iran

Bodybuilders

Creatine, vitamins, hormones/prohormones

Karimian & Esfahani, 2011

Korea

Elite weight lifters

Sport drinks, protein, creatine

Cho & Lee, 2008

Brazil

Gym goers

Protein, sports drinks, carbohydrates

Goston & Correia, 2010

Lebanon

Gym goers

Protein, amino acids, creatine

Khoury & Antoine-Jonville, 2012

Korea

Olympic athletes (VS)

Vitamins, herbs, amino acids

Kim et al, 2011

Australia

Elite athletes (VS)

Vitamins & minerals, protein, caffeine

Dascombe et al, 2010

USA

Army Special Forces

Sport drinks, bars, vitamins

Bovill et al, 2003

USA

College athletes (VS)

Energy drink, meal replacements, creatine

Froiland et al, 2004

Canada

College athletes (VS)

Sport drinks, caffeine, vitamins & minerals

Kristiansen et al, 2005

VS = Various sports

One trend that you will see, regardless of sport and nationality, is that creatine, vitamins and minerals, and protein powders are the three most consumed supplements for men.

Top Supplements Used by Women

The use of supplements is quite different for women. This is a separate table that shows you how women compare to men.

Country

Athlete Type

Top 3 supplements (in order)

Reference

USA

Competitive bodybuilders

Vitamins & minerals, amino acids, protein

Brill & Keane, 1994

Iran

Bodybuilders

Vitamins & minerals only

Karimian & Esfahani, 2011

Brazil

Gym goers

Herbs, vitamins & minerals, sports drinks

Goston & Correia, 2010

Lebanon

Gym goers

Vitamins & minerals, fish oil, bars

Khoury & Antoine-Jonville, 2012

Korea

Olympic athletes (VS)

Vitamins, herbs, amino acids

Kim et al, 2011

Australia

Elite athletes (VS)

Vitamins & minerals, caffeine, weight gainers

Dascombe et al, 2010

USA

College athletes (VS)

Vitamins & minerals, energy drinks, meal replacements

Froiland et al, 2004

Canada

College athletes (VS)

Caffeine, carbohydrates, sports drinks equal with vitamins and minerals

Kristiansen et al, 2005

VS = Various sports

Supplement usage among women is often significantly lower than that of men. In the instances where supplements are used, the most popular type by far is vitamin and mineral supplements. Unlike men, the usage of creatine and protein among women is rarer.

Although women are just as likely to benefit from supplement use as men, there does appear to be more of an aversion towards supplement use, particularly those with performance and muscle enhancing properties. It is possible that part of the reason is that women do not wish to look “bulky”. Furthermore, such products tend to be heavily marketed towards men, and may appear to be intimidating to some women. Regardless, women should not be put off from taking supplements, especially if they train hard. Supplement companies have also caught onto this, and consequently have specifically tailored and marketed a range of supplements for women, including a large range of ladies proteins.

Supplement Use in Other Countries

The use of supplements among bodybuilders varies depending on where and when you lived. From this writer’s observation here in Australia, protein powders would be the most commonly used supplement among bodybuilders. This is indeed the case for Korea, as 79% of elite Korean bodybuilders reported the use of protein powders (Cho & Lee, 2008). However, if we go to Iran, the most popular supplement among the men there is actually creatine (62%). Protein does not even make the top four (Karimian & Esfahani, 2011). What’s also weird is if we go back in time to the 1990s and take a look at competitive American bodybuilders. During their bulking phase, those guys used to use vitamins more than anything (61%), followed by protein (59%), and amino acids (54%) (Brill & Keane, 1994). This might be a result of changing attitudes towards supplements over the years, and bodybuilders having become more educated about the effects of supplements.

Although there are variations in the proportions of supplement used, overall the types of supplements used are very similar from one country to another. There are some exceptions. For example, you may find that Iranian bodybuilders prefer hormones and prohormones and Korean Olympians prefer herbal supplements over protein powders. None of these substances are unknown to Aussie bodybuilders. Due to the side effects of hormones and prohormones, these are considered to be controlled substances locally. However, herbal supplements such as the ginseng used by Korean Olympians are easily found in supplements available locally. Thus, despite being half a world away, there is no secret weapon that we’re missing out on.

Benefits and Reasons for using Supplements

Looking through the above articles, some of the most common reasons for taking supplements include improving strength/performance, gaining muscle, and maintaining health. These reasons probably do not sound different to yours. In some cases, it is primarily the men interested in the strength and performance boosting effects of supplements, while the women were more concerned with maintaining health (Khoury & Antoine-Jonville, 2012). This may explain why women are more inclined to take vitamin and mineral supplements.

These reasons for taking supplements are often entirely justified.

  • Creatine is well established in its ability to help increase strength and muscle gain.
  • Protein powders help to build lean muscle and is one of the must have supplements in a bodybuilder’s cabinet
  • Multivitamins are beneficial for general health and to ensure there are no deficiencies within one’s diet. This is especially true of bodybuilders and athletes who have a higher demand than other people.
  • Sports drinks provide both hydration and an extra source of energy during work out sessions.

How Much Do You Know About Supplements?

One trend that these studies have repeatedly found was that despite the high rate of using supplements, people often lack adequate nutritional knowledge. When quizzed, the elite Korean bodybuilders answered 46% of the questions correctly (Cho & Lee, 2008). Similarly, Australian elite athletes were found to know very little about the supplements they were taking, and wanted to know more (Dascombe et al, 2010). Common issues include people misunderstanding the purpose of the supplements, their mode of action, and doses. Despite this, most people do not seek professional advice. Consequently, almost all the investigators recommend a strong need to educate athletes and bodybuilders in the field of nutrition and supplements. So if you’re here, you’ve taken the right first step into finding out more about your supplements. So please have a browse around, we have hundreds of articles that will help you learn more about the supplements you take.

Bovill et al (2003), Nutrition Knowledge and Supplement Use among Elite U.S. Army Soliders. Miltary Medicine, 168: 997-1000
Burns et al (2004), Intercollegiate Student Athlete Use of Nutritional Supplements and the Role of Athletic Trainers and Dietitians in Nutrition Counseling. J Am Diet Assoc, 104: 246-249
Cho & Lee (2008), Practices of nutritional ergogenic aids usage by elite bodybuilders and weight litters. Korean Journal of Community Nutrition. 13: 134-142.
Chlopicka et al (2007), Dietary supplements selected by young people exercising in fitness rooms in Krakow and Environs, 58: 185-189
Dascombe et al (2010), Nutritional supplementation habits and perceptions of elite athletes within a state-based sporting institute. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 13: 274-280
Froiland et al (2004), Nutritional Supplement Use Among College Athletes and Their Sources of Information. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 14: 104-120
Huang et al (2006), The Use of Dietary Supplements and Medications by Canadian Athletes at the Atlanta and Sydney Olympic Games Clin J Sport Med 16: 27-33
Karimian & Esfahani (2011), Supplement consumption in body builder athletes. J Res Med Sci, 16: 1347-1353
Kim et al (2011), Dietary supplementation patterns of Korean olympic athletes participating in the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 21: 166-74
Kristiansen et al (2005), Dietary Supplement Use by Varsity Athletes at a Canadian University. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 15: 195-210
Goston & Correia (2010), Intake of nutritional supplements among people exercising in gyms and influencing factors. Nutrition 26: 604-611
Khoury & Antoine-Jonville (2012), Intake of Nutritional Supplements among People Exercising in Gyms in Beirut City. Journal of Nutrition and Metaboilsm, 2012 (online)
Petroczi (2008), Nutritional supplement use by elite young UK athletes: fallacies of advice regarding efficacy. J int Soc Sports Nutr, 5 (online)
Silva et al (2010), Dietary Supplement Intake in National-Level Sri Lankan Athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 20: 15-20

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