Objectives Recent operational experience has led to the identification of several potentially serious adverse events related to the use of dietary and exercise supplements among British Army personnel. This study aimed to establish the point prevalence of dietary and exercise supplement usage in British soldiers on Op TELIC during January 2009.
Methods A cross-sectional questionnaire-based study of British military personnel located at the Contingency Operating Base (COB), in Basra, was performed during the sixth week of Op TELIC 13.
Results From 1544 questionnaires (target population) issued, a total of 1017 (65.9%) completed questionnaires were evaluated. The mean population age was 29.5 years (range 18-58) of which 87.4% were male. 417/1017 persons (41.0%) admitted to a history of supplement use of which 32.0% were current users and 9.4% were previous users. Of these current users, 66.0% started taking them on their current deployment. The most commonly taken supplements were whey protein (18.8%), amino acids (17.9%), and creatine (13.2%). There were 14 persons (1.4%) who admitted to current use of anabolic steroids. The most-frequently given reasons for taking supplements were either to ‘increase muscle bulk’ (40.4%) or to aid training and recovery (20.8%).
Conclusions This is the first study to investigate the use of exogenous nutritional supplements within the British Military and has identified their widespread use during operational deployment. The use of anabolic steroids is particularly worrying, given both their illegality and their well-recognised and deleterious health effects. There is a need for greater awareness and education regarding potential benefits and dangers of supplement use in order to maximise any potential benefits and minimise clinical risk.
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