Most of us think of nutritional fitness supplements as practically equivalent to medicines: After all, they can help us perform, heal, recover and promote our health and well-being. Supplements also react with our body chemistry, and can even interact with other medications or supplements we take, just like medicines.
But supplements do have one very important difference from medicines: They are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means supplement contents claims are often only as good as their manufacturers. A product label may state certain ingredients and concentrations, but manufacturers aren’t required to prove those claims through an independent source.
Unless that supplement carries an NSF® certification label.
The NSF is an independent group that’s been around since the 1940s . (The initials originally stood for National Sanitation Foundation, but that name is a little outdated now, so they just call themselves NSF International.) The NSF tests and certifies lot of different products—food, consumer goods and even water. In the non-regulated industry of nutritional supplements, NSF certification is particularly useful for consumers looking to use supplements safely.
To be NSF-certified, a supplement product must meet three main criteria:
Label claim: The ingredients listed on the product label must match what’s in the bottle.
Toxicology: NSF will certify the formulation of the product, making sure concentrations of ingredients match the label and also are at safe levels.
Contaminant review: The product cannot contain any undeclared ingredients or unacceptable levels of contaminants.
The NSF also has a separate certification for sports supplements called NSF Certified for Sport®. This program goes further, evaluating product manufacturing processes and ensuring that supplements contain no banned substances (both in the ingredients and the finished product). The NSF sport certification is recognized by several major sports organizations, including the NFL, MLB and PGA.
If a supplement-maker seeks out NSF certification, it’s a good indication that they stand behind the ingredients and formulations of their products. All PurAthlete products, for example, are NSF-certified.
The NSF doesn’t test products for their efficacy, but by certifying the contents of products, an NSF certification lets you feel confident about what you’re buying and putting into your body. This helps make supplements safer by ensuring athletes are receiving the right amount of nutritional supplement promised and supplements don’t contain any banned substances that could jeopardize eligibility to compete. NSF-certification can be especially important when it comes to choosing workout supplements that are safe for teenagers because it helps ensure appropriate doses of supplements for growing bodies.
So next time you’re shopping for a supplement, look for the NSF-certification label so can you feel as good about your purchase as the supplement promises you’ll feel after your next workout.