Updated: May 7, 2021
The risk & use of dietary supplements by athletes
Dietary supplements are widely used at all levels of sport. Changes in patterns of supplement use are taking place against a background of changes in the regulatory framework that governs the manufacture and distribution of supplements in the major markets. Market regulation is complicated by the increasing popularity of Internet sales. The need for quality control of products to ensure they contain the listed ingredients in the stated amount and to ensure the absence of potentially harmful substances is recognized. This latter category includes compounds prohibited under anti-doping regulations. Several certification programs now provide testing facilities for manufacturers of both raw ingredients and end products to ensure the absence of prohibited substances. Athletes should carry out a cost–benefit analysis for any supplement they propose to use. For most supplements, the evidence is weak, or even completely absent. A few supplements, including caffeine, creatine, and bicarbonate, are supported by a strong research base. Difficulties arise when new evidence appears to support novel supplements: in recent years, b-allanine has become popular, and the use of nitrate and arginine is growing. Athletes seldom wait until there is convincing evidence of efficacy or of safety, but caution is necessary to minimize risk.
You should already be aware that the use of supplements can present a risk to athletes and may result in a positive test.
What are Dietary Supplements?
Although there is no clear definition, dietary supplements are products used alongside a normal diet to improve general health and well-being or enhance sporting performance.
They can include sports drinks or vitamin tablets, which claim to help with building muscle, increasing endurance, weight gain or loss, improving suppleness, rehydrating, aiding recovery or overcoming a mineral deficiency. Dietary supplements can be found in pill, tablet, capsule, powder or liquid form.
Why are They Such a High Risk?
Supplements can present a high risk for several reasons:
- Some supplements contain banned substances.
- Some supplements can be contaminated during the manufacturing process.
- Some supplements will list ingredients on the label differently to how they would appear on
the Prohibited List.
- Risk of counterfeit (fake) supplements, especially when purchased online.
Our advice to you should you be considering using supplements is to assess the need, risks and consequences before using supplements.
Assess the Need
Advice is that diet, lifestyle and training should all be optimised before considering supplements. Athletes should assess the need for supplements by consulting a, registered nutritionist, or a sports and exercise medicine doctor, or even your GP before taking supplements.
Assess the Risk
If an athlete makes the decision to use supplements, they should assess the associated risks and make informed decisions about the products they opt to use. Supplements may claim to be drug-free or safe for drug-tested athletes but there are no guarantees that any supplements will be free from prohibited substances.
To minimise the risks you MUST undertake thorough internet research of any supplement products before use – including the name of the product and the ingredients/substances listed. Information revealed as a result should be further investigated and we advise athletes to keep evidence of their research. We also advise that you only use batch tested supplement products.