Nutritional supplements are a temptation for athletes with and without spinal cord injury (SCI) who are attempting to enhance their performance. However, many supplements do not possess convincing scientific merit to advise their use and some even have the potential to cause harm. This is of particular concern for athletes with SCI, who often need to manage secondary health complications for optimal performance. Currently, there is a paucity of research on the supplement knowledge of elite athletes and athletes with SCI, as the majority of research has investigated able-bodied (AB) athletes of junior to university level in countries other than New Zealand (NZ). This emphasises the importance to investigate the supplement knowledge and practices of NZ athletes to evaluate how the SCI population compare with the AB population, and how these groups compare to their overseas counterparts.
The present study investigated the nutritional supplement knowledge, practices and reasons for use of 11 elite AB athletes and 15 athletes with SCI in NZ from an online questionnaire.
The SCI and AB groups demonstrated moderate levels of supplement knowledge (64.8% AB vs. 57.5% SCI) (p=0.466). Despite this difference being insignificant, the SCI group reported supplement practices relating to the physiological effects of SCI. Supplement practices may have been used as a prevention method against their increased risk of illness and infection, and potentially as a compensatory strategy to augment an obligatory loss of muscle size and strength. This was shown by their higher prevalence for the use of vitamin C (p=0.05) and creatine (p=0.012), and supported by their nutritional beliefs and reasons for supplement use.
Although athletes with SCI have similar levels of supplement knowledge as their AB counterparts, this does not mean their knowledge is adequate. Athletes with SCI appear to be disadvantaged regarding their nutritional education and support, particularly in the present study as the majority of AB athletes attended an elite sporting institute. Moreover, nutrition recommendations for athletes with SCI are non-existent, which emphasizes the need for further research to form the basis of nutritional guidelines for this group. Nevertheless, even with the available nutrition information for AB athletes, it is evident NZ athletes with and without SCI are likely to benefit from further nutrition and supplement education.||