Using supplements is risky

You should already be aware that the use of supplements can present a risk to athletes and may result in a positive drugs test.

Supplements

What are supplements?

Although there is no clear definition, dietary supplements are products used alongside a normal diet to improve general health and wellbeing 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:

  • They do not fall under the same regulations as food and medicines. This means they do not have to state all their ingredients on the label, so you may not know what you're taking
  • Advertising of supplements can suggest untested claims about their benefits
  • Production of some supplements has low quality control, which means that there is a chance of contamination with other products that may be banned substances.

You will no doubt have seen athletes taking supplements or well-known athletes endorsing them in advertising campaigns. You need to check all products for yourself and know the risks you may be taking.

Assess the need

UK Anti-Doping's advice is that diet, lifestyle and training should all be optimised before considering supplements. Athletes should assess the need for supplements by consulting an accredited sports dietician, registered nutritionist with expertise in sports nutrition, or a sports and exercise medicine doctor, 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 it is not possible to guarantee that specific supplements will be free of prohibited substances.

Remember strict liability - if you use a supplement, test positive for a banned substance and it turns out the banned substance was in the supplement but wasn't on the label, you will face the same penalties as someone who deliberately took the banned substance.

Risk Minimisation Scheme

In the UK, HFL Sports Science has created a risk minimisation scheme called Informed Sport. This is a supplement testing and certification programme which aims to assure athletes that products carrying the Informed Sport mark have been regularly tested for prohibited substances and manufactured to strict standards.

Limitations of the Informed Sport programme

It is not possible to provide a 100 per cent guarantee that any supplement is totally free of contamination. Informed Sport is only a risk minimisation programme. However, if an athlete has made a decision to use a supplement, it is better to be taking one that has been subjected to credible testing and appropriate manufacturing controls.

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