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Alert: Be Aware of What's in Your Sports Nutrition Supplements


You want to get more bounce to the ounce and meet your goals when it comes to sports and fitness. So you decide to take one, or two, or even more sports nutrition supplements. Just one problem, warns Shawn Talbott, PhD, in Competitor: Those supplements may not be as safe as you think.

Doping Dangers
The word "doping," says Shawn, is "a word charged with ethics, emotion, and politics. For us non-elite athletes, the issue of doping, or use of banned performance-enhancing drugs and methods, is mostly a theoretical one." But if you want to compete at some level, even a local running race, you might be tested. And that's why it's so important to know whether your supplements might be tainted.

And it's not just for the glory of the gold: Safety plays a key role.

Tainted Supplement Risks
Even if you take a supplement unaware of what it actually contains, athletes are “strictly liable” for any prohibited substances which are found in their bodies (blood and urine samples), according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). And that holds true "even when some supplements have clearly been found to contain undeclared steroids and stimulants," says Shawn.

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So what's the key to safety? Quality control. "None of us, elite or amateur, wants our supplements to contain any “undeclared” ingredients, especially if they’re prohibited by the rules of our sport. If your electrolyte powder has a smidge of testosterone in it, you probably won’t have to give back the Tour de France’s maillot Jaune, but you want your nutrition products to contain what they’re supposed to and nothing else. This is where good quality control comes in," opines Shawn.

Reality Check
The good news: The majority of companies seek to be responsible and ethical. They want to be safe and have a good reputation, and that means perfomring their own quality control. However, "you never really know that the products you’re ingesting are clean unless those products are specifically analyzed to confirm the absence of prohibited substances," points out Shawn.

And that requires analytical chemistry, testing for specific, minute amounts of different substances that might harm your health and result in a positive doping decree.

Check to see that your nutrition supplements fall under the umbrella of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). These practices "are mandated and overseen by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration," says Shawn. In addition, take time to ensure that they contain only those ingredients that are disclosed on the label (which is mandated by U.S. law).

Your Options
Be aware that "some dietary supplement ingredients (and medications) that are perfectly legal in the United States may also be considered prohibited by WADA for use in sport (training and competition). DHEA, a precursor for testosterone synthesis used for anti-aging benefits, and sildenifil (Viagra), used for other types of “performance enhancement,” are two examples of substances that are perfectly legal for the market, but banned for athletes," notes Shawn.

Although some organizations can analyze dietary supplements, their limits of detection differ. Bottom line: As an athlete, you must take responsibility for selecting and taking the appropriate supplements. "Only through self-education and asking the right questions can you make an informed decision about which supplements are right for you," concludes Shawn.