This chapter is based on a literature review prepared to support the development of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) Position Statement on Supplements and Sports Foods in High-Performance Sport.
The position statement and the resources of the AIS Sports Supplement Framework can be found at https://www.ais.gov.au/nutrition/supplements.
Sports nutrition guidelines provide recommendations for the intake of energy, nutrients and other dietary components that support training adaptations, achieve body composition goals, promote health and injury prevention, and optimise competition performance. Although ‘food first’ is the central philosophy to the achievement of these goals, supplements and sports foods can also play a role in a sports nutrition plan. Indeed, the use of supplements and sports foods is widespread among athletes due to the enthusiastic marketing of these products within the sporting environment, but also reflects the high use of supplements in the general community. The issues around supplements and sports foods for athletes are specialised and include potential benefits as well as disadvantages and dangers. In the past, sporting organisations and expert groups have taken a conservative view: focusing on the negative themes, branding supplements as ineffective and unnecessary, and discouraging athletes from using them.
Nevertheless, the manufacture and marketing of sports supplements has flourished, leaving many athletes without access to empathetic expert advice, and vulnerable to claims that are not evidence based. Many athletes rely on information sources that are neither impartial nor credible, which are located outside the sporting organisations. In 2000, the AIS launched the ground-breaking AIS Sports Supplement Program, advocating for a balanced approach to the inclusion of sports foods and supplements within an athlete’s sports nutrition plan. Activities related to education, research, provision and governance were implemented to allow high-performance athletes to make informed decisions about the pros and cons of the use of supplements and sports foods. The benefits of a pragmatic approach and the international leadership of this program were confirmed by the change in philosophy to supplement use in the 2018 International Olympic Committee (IOC) Consensus Statement on Dietary Supplements and the High-Performance Athlete (Maughan et al. 2018). This position statement outlines the principles and implementation of sound use of supplements and sports foods in sport, with a focus on features and requirements of the Australian high-performance sports system and with reference to the expertise derived from the activities of the AIS Sports Supplement Program/Framework and the IOC Working Group on Dietary Supplements.
The definition of a supplement or sports food is problematic because of the lack of a single and universal classification scheme or regulatory approach to these products (Dwyer et al. 2018). Furthermore, as manufacturers innovate their production of ‘functional foods’ or add new ingredients to conventional sports foods, the distinction between food, sports food and supplement becomes even more blurred. A range of different classification themes ...