Why athletes need ATs – Supplements

4 Apr

Why do athletes or athletic departments or teams need the services of an athletic trainer?  This will be a series of articles attempting to examine the unique and important roles that athletic trainers play in the lives of the people that they care for.


The nutritional supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry.  This is especially true when it comes to sports nutrition where there are billions of dollars to be garnered by thousands of companies marketing, manufacturing and distributing nutritional supplements.  Much of this marketing is aim at athletes.  Open any athletic development or bodybuilding magazine and you will see hundreds of pages of ads for nutritional supplements. Further adding to the equation is the fact that nutritional supplements are not federally regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.  These companies can make just about any claim without fear of retribution.  In a study by the IOC some years ago, several supplements were studied and almost half of the supplements contained ingredients not listed on the label.  Some of these substances were illegal performance enhancing substances.  Supplement use can be a very risky venture.

With so many companies selling so many products and competing for a larger share of the profits, the ad campaigns must catch the consumer’s attention.  To catch attention, the marketing departments will use all kinds of gimmicks and techniques.  Many of these companies are nothing more than modern day Snake Oil salesmen of the Old West.

But despite the industries drawbacks and bad companies, there are some nutritional supplements that work as advertized.  The problem is that it can often take someone with a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree and years of experience in nutrition to discern what is hype and what is effective.

While ATs are not Registered Dieticians (RD), they do have a good amount of nutrition education and much of that focused on sports nutrition including supplements.  In addition to the formal training are seminars, lectures, weekend courses and access to pier reviewed research on nutrition.  Many ATs are very well versed in supplements.

I get questions about supplements all the time.  Is this product safe?  Should I take this?  Parents are often the ones asking me the questions and I enjoy the conversations.  Not only do I get the chance to effect the health of the athlete through what they eat, I am often hearing of new supplements as athletes bring me questions.  This is a chance to sit with them, show them the research and the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the supplements.

In the high school setting, coaches, parents and students often lack the basic nutrition education.  It is therefore very difficult for high school athletes to discern the hype in the supplement industry since they lack the knowledge they need.  In this setting, ATs should really educate the athletes and parents to eat right first, supplement second (if even needed).  There is not doubt that the typical American teenage diet is awful.  Get them to eat right first.  I am amazed at the number of athletes who don’t eat breakfast.

In the college setting, the athletes are more serious about performance, have some education in nutrition and often have access to nutritionists (especially at the elite levels).  The coaches also are more likely to be educated and up to date on sports nutrition.  But, many supplements are outright banned or quantities regulated by the NCAA.  The AT can be useful in the college setting to aid in the education of the athletes and coaches in what supplements are effective, banned, regulated or a waste of an athlete’s money and time.

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