Sports Supplements: What's Safe, Effective and Legal?

Sports Supplements: What's Safe, Effective and Legal?

What are Sports Supplements?

First, let’s look at the legal definition of a sports supplement. This will prove to you just how confusing the topic really is to most athletes.

Sports supplements, as defined by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act aka DSHEA, are as follows:

Vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, other dietary supplements, and any concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or a combination of any of these ingredients.

Does that clear it up? I doubt it. Perhaps this is why there is so much confusion over nutritional supplements by athletes! Many an athlete has found himself in the hot seat by unwittingly taking dietary supplements that they were assured were “safe” and “natural.”

What Sports Supplements are “Fair?”

When you’re researching sports supplements, remember that the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate this industry.  It is your body and your choice of what you put into it. Ultimately, you are responsible for making sure that you’re playing “fair” with nutritional supplements.  Luckily, we have a couple of sure-fire ways to keep you in the know.

Look for the NSF Mark

Nutritional supplements that are “fair” are those that are certified by NSF International. This organization conducts research and testing to certify sports supplements as “safe.” NSF is not a government agency. They are an independent company. Because they are not a government entity, their findings are strictly based on research and results, leaving the politics out of it.

The NSF mark will be proudly displayed by manufacturers who meet their stringent requirements. If you see this mark, it meets gold standard certification. Consider it safe.

Both Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Football League (NFL) depend on NSF guidelines in their rulebooks.

What Sports Supplements Are “Foul?”

Here is where the waters turn just a little bit murky. Supplements that sound beneficial to you on the label can actually contain banned or illegal substances. Remember—the FDA is out of the loop on regulating these!

Tread with Caution

Indeed, products commonly found on the shelves at your health food store can get you fouled. Some product lines notorious for small amounts of these substances are:

  • Weight loss products
  • Weight gain products
  • Energy enhancing products
  • Sexual performance enhancing products
  • Testosterone building products
  • Muscle building products

But, as you know, even a trace amount of banned substances can get you benched.

Look to the Label

Read product labels very carefully. Look for items listed by the World Anti-Doping Agency. They publish a comprehensive list of banned ingredients that you should not use. In addition to listing banned substances, they also indicate exceptions to the rules. These include prescription medications and the amounts that an athlete can take.

Designations of “Natural”

Just because the label states that ingredients are “natural,” it doesn’t keep you out of trouble. There are many herb-based and plant-based remedies that share properties with clinical drugs. Therefore, keep away from natural or herbal ingredients that don’t have either the NSF or Informed Choice seal.

Here’s some food for thought. Would your coach be happy if you tested positive for marijuana? At the end of the day, it’s a plant. It’s natural.

Remember that banned substances are a “foul” whether they are natural or a chemical compound. It’s up to you to know what’s in your nutritional supplements.

Confusing Labels

Some unscrupulous manufacturers deliberately highlight the benefits of their products and create an air of confusion in the ingredients. They use labels that have so many ingredients that you need your dictionary app to look up each ingredient name. These companies know that you’re unlikely to do this.

Or, they list ingredients in such small fonts that they are difficult to read even for a guy with 20/20 vision. This is a definite red flag. It indicates that they are trying to hide ingredients right out in the open.

Finally, look out for the terminology “proprietary blend.” This actually creates more questions than answers. Again, this is not a sign of a reputable or honest company.

Pass on any products with unclear or confusing or barely legible labels.

Sports supplements can be a wonderful tool to support your hard work in the gym and enhance your nutritional program. In fact, they can be beneficial in adding stamina, bursts of energy, and hydration to increase your overall performance on game day.

However, it’s up to you to make sure that you know what you are putting in your body. You’ve trained hard and studied your game. Don’t let one misinformed choice cost you all your hard work.  Choose products that are “fair” so that you don’t get called for a “foul.”