Supplementing Your Diet

Play it safe with supplements

Are YOU a “Supplement Savvy” Athlete?

1. What is the definition of a dietary supplement?
A dietary supplement is a product (other than tobacco) that is intended to supplement the diet. Contains one or more dietary ingredients (including vitamins; minerals; herbs or other botanicals; amino acids; and other substances) or their constituents. Supplements are intended to be taken by mouth as a pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid.
You can see a label on the front panel as being a dietary supplement.

Supplement companies are not allowed to claim their supplement will cure, mitigate, or treat a disease

2. What (estimated) percent of athletes currently use dietary supplements?
A lot! In a review published by Loughborough University School of Sport and Exercise Sciences (England), supplement use is more prevalent in athletes (up to 60%) than in the general population (35-40%). However, “athletes who take supplements most often have no clear understanding of the effects of the supplements they are using, but it seems clear that supplements should be used only after a careful cost-benefit analysis has been conducted.”

3. Do dietary supplements work?
Most do NOT back up their claims… however, there are products that do work effectively for their intended purpose – including improved athletic performance. Remember, supplements are intended to supplement a healthful, adequate diet. It is best to get your nutrients from foods first. As the saying goes… “a poor diet supplemented is still a poor diet”…and your athletic potential will not be achieved.

4. Are dietary supplements safe?
Most are safe, however many are not. It is common for many dietary supplements to have side effects, including negatively interacting with medications. Some dietary supplements have caused serious harm and death. Also, a startling number of dietary supplements contain heavy metals, pesticides, prescription drugs and substances that are either illegal or banned (by sports governing bodies) due to contaminated raw ingredients, intentional adulteration and/or poor manufacturing practices.

5. About what percent of US dietary supplements have been found to contain banned (and illegal) substances?
A large study conducted by the Cologne Laboratory (UK) of 634 different product samples from 215 different suppliers in 13 countries around the world found:
94 supplements (14.8% of the total) of those analyzed were shown definitely to contain prohibited substances (e.g. steroid hormones and their precursors).
In another 66 samples (10.4% of the total), the analysis was inconclusive, but steroids may have been present.
19% of products bought in the USA contained prohibited substances.

6. How many dietary supplements are currently endorsed by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA)?
Because of insufficient supplement quality and frequent contamination, NO (zero) dietary supplement products are currently endorsed/certified by USADA (2011).

7. How well are dietary supplements regulated?
The current regulations in the US and in many other countries permit the unrestricted sale of substances that are closely related to testosterone and other anabolic androgenic agents. The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) is now proposing to introduce legislation that will regulate the manufacture and distribution of dietary supplements. Currently, dietary supplements are not evaluated by regulatory agencies and inaccurate labeling of ingredients is known to be a problem. Internet selling has also effectively removed most of the national controls that are in place to protect the consumer (Source: Loughborough University)

8. What dietary supplement products should athletes specifically be most concerned with ingesting?
Bodybuilding products: may contain undeclared ingredients, steroids, pro-hormones,  & steroid pre-cursors
Weight loss products: may contain undeclared ingredients, banned diuretics, & stimulants
Pre-workout products: may contain undeclared ingredients, banned stimulants, & excessive levels of caffeine
Male enhancement products: may contain undeclared ingredients, pro-hormones, & other banned substances
Energy drinks: may contain undeclared ingredients, banned stimulants, & excessive levels of caffeine

9. Where can I find information about which dietary supplements are approved for your sport?
A sports dietitian (RD, CSSD)
Your sports medicine staff (e.g. athletic trainer)
Your sports governing body, including: NIAA (high school), NCAA (collegiate), players associations (NFL, MLB, etc.), and USADA or WADA (international)

For questions, contact Joe Dibble, RD, CSCS

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