Monday, December 23, 2013

Supplement Safety 101

Today’s athletes are always seeking new ways to improve their performance. Any substance or treatment intended to improve exercise performance – such as dietary supplements – are termed as an ergogenic aid. Ergogenic aids can be nutritional, psychological, mechanical, pharmacological, or any physiological substance. Athletes everywhere are bombarded with sports supplement testimonials and advertisements – the scary part is the supplement company does not have to demonstrate any proof of efficacy or safety. This is due to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). This disables the Food and Drug Administration from regulating supplements because they are classified as foods. These unregulated supplement claims can present a lot of confusion to athletes.
Many athletes may turn to supplement store personal for advice in hopes of gaining strength, power, or speed. However, it is most likely the employee working behind the counter has no accredited qualifications to be recommending any dietary supplement let alone derivatives of testosterone or growth hormone. Collegiate athletes need to pay very special attention to what dietary sports supplements they are taking. Taking a banned or “laced” supplement can leave you with a failed drug test and a spot on the bench.
            A major ongoing detrimental issue concerning supplements is some contain excessive doses of potentially toxic ingredients or contain ingredients that are not approved the World Anti-Doping Agency, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), IOC, Major League Baseball (MLB), and the National Football League (NFL).1 For high school and collegiate level athletes, it is essential to be familiar with the NCAA guidelines – talk with your designated athletics department staff or an RD. Do not use the label as an accurate representation of the ingredients, as many dietary supplements are contaminated with banned drugs that are not listed on the label.      
            Meal-replacement powders, ready-to-drink supplements, and energy bars or gels are ideal for an athletes on the run. But, these should not be regularly substituted in the place of whole foods as this may deprive the athlete of a well-balanced diet. As the name insist, supplements are only to supplement your diet. Do not cheat yourself, food has a greater impact on athletic success. Sports Dietitians have the know-how to evaluate the scientific merit of articles and advertisements concerning exercise and nutrition product and separate the marketing hype from scientifically based nutrition and training practices – your local supplement store clerk more than likely does not.
Athletes should make informed choices when taking dietary supplements. Referencing the NSF and can help educate athletes on what they are putting in their body. The NSF meets the needs of safety and quality for the dietary supplement industry. They ensure product and ingredient safety, while giving both consumers and industry peace of mind through rigorous testing services, GMP compliance, and training capabilities.2

Gavin Van De Walle is an ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, a NANBF Natural Competitive bodybuilder, and a dietetic student at South Dakota State University. Following graduation, Gavin will pursue his Ph.D. in nutritional sciences while aiming to make a positive impact on the over well-being and nutritional status of the American people along the way.    

1.      Maughan RJ: Contamination of dietary supplements and positive drug tests in sport, J Sports Sci 23: 8883, 2005.  
2.      Services by Industry: Dietary Supplements. NSF web site.
Accessed December 4, 2013.