Sports pharmacist: coming soon to a cycling team near you

Expert opinion: Professor David Bishop is a research leader in sport and exercise science at Victoria University. He has a special interest in metabolic training adaptations

It’s not so long ago that drafting a pharmacist on to a sporting team might have raised eyebrows, but sports medicine is now well established as a therapeutic speciality. It won’t be long, in my view, before sports pharmacy emerges as a recognised and in-demand profession.

Since 2006 there has been a textbook titled Sport and Exercise Medicine for Pharmacists, and in 2009 the Japan Anti-Doping Agency established a system to certify pharmacists who obtain an in-depth knowledge of anti-doping. It seems inevitable that sports pharmacists will increasingly be called upon to enhance the performance of athletes.

Athletes suffer from the same conditions as everyone else, of course, but have additional needs for pharmacists; namely, to provide specialist support to help maintain their health, guidance on medicines and supplements, and to aid recovery.

Probably one of the most important roles of a sports pharmacist will be to help athletes navigate the banned substances list. As recent events have highlighted, these lists are frequently updated, and inattentive athletes can get caught out.

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If athletes do need a banned drug for a legitimate medical reason, pharmacists may also be able to provide advice on how to secure a therapeutic use exemption.

Eat well, ride better

Initially, ‘sports pharmacists’ will be regular pharmacists with a special interest in sport. However, demand will ultimately lead to the emergence of specialist postgraduate programmes in the field of sports pharmacy.

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There are already some web-based learning programmes, and I suspect more and more universities will begin to recognise the market for this by offering sports pharmacy postgraduate degrees.

No doubt as the field grows we will also see the creation of a new professional body to help regulate and maintain standards. As always, from little things big things grow, and it may not be long before most professional teams have a sports pharmacist to complement their athlete support team.