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How do you know if a sports supplement is safe and not banned?

Many athletes take sports supplements with the goal of enhancing performance or recovery. But did you know that not all sports supplements are safe and permitted for use?

In this article I will give you tips on how to make sure that the supplements you are taking are safe and not banned.

To start, who bans sports supplements?

The World Anti-Doping Agency. They have a list of substances which are not permitted for use by athletes. This list has different categories with some substances such as anabolic agents banned at all times but other substances, e.g., stimulants, banned during competition. Athletes can be drug tested both in training and in competition with sanctioning if a test is positive for prohibited substances. The only exception is the use of these substances for medical reasons. In 2021 0.55% of drug tests resulted in sanctioning (WADA, 2021).

Common sense would think that if sports supplements are available to buy then they are safe for use, but this is not always true. The supplement industry is less regulated than the food and drug industries meaning that there is less testing and less strict rules. The manufacturing, labelling, and marketing of sports supplements is therefore less controlled. This makes it easier to promote and sell unsafe products and so the theory that because they are available to buy they are safe to take goes out the window.

The safety of a supplement also needs scientific testing. This is also essential to determine how effective the supplement is. However, this is not a simple task. The results of these tests can vary due to different individual responses to supplements, different sports and requirements, different doses used, and differences in the length of time the supplements are used. This all means that for many sports supplements the evidence for their use is not strong.

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For this reason, I have made a list of some top tips to help you to ensure that if you decide to take a sports supplement it is safe and not banned.

1. Do I need this?

The first thing to consider is if it is worth buying and taking a supplement. You should think about your current diet and determine if it is providing you with sufficient nutrition without requiring supplements. For example, if you are eating high amounts of protein already you might not need to take protein supplements.

2. Will it work?

Athletes take sports supplements to improve recovery or performance and so it is important to understand how the supplement works and if it will be beneficial for you. Well researched supplements are more likely to be effective.

3. Is this the right time to trial a supplement?

Remember that supplements may not always work and could have unwanted side effects. Therefore, it is best not to take a supplement on the day of or in the lead up to the competition. Trial the supplement in advance to be sure it is giving you the benefit you are looking for.

4. Check the ingredients label and the prohibited list

This is very important. Look at what is included in the supplement and compare this to the prohibited list. This can be difficult because prohibited substances may have different names. However, looking at each ingredient is worth it in the long run to ensure you are not taking any banned substances.

5. What are the rules in your sport?

The prohibited list can vary among sports so make sure you check the rules for your sport before taking a supplement.

6. Is it batch tested?

Batch tested supplements have a lower risk of contamination making them safer for use. Contamination can occur due to mixing of unwanted ingredients during the manufacturing process. This means that prohibited substances may be found in a supplement even though it is not on the label. By using batch tested products you are at a lower risk of having contaminated supplements.

7. How should I take this supplement?

To ensure that you are safely taking a supplement follow the recommended dosing and timing instructions. This will also help to ensure you get the greatest effect from the supplement. Always remember to check what other supplements you are taking and ensure you do not have an excess intake of any substance.

Sports supplements can be beneficial to improve performance but if you are taking a supplement that is not safe or banned it will cause more harm than good.
This list was therefore made to help to ensure the supplements you are taking are safe.

If you are needing 1-1 support to ensure you choose the right supplementation as well as ensure that it is ultimately needed, speak to our expert sports dietitian's.

At Nutrition and Co, we help male and female athletes reach their fullest potential in their sport by optimising recovery, individualising fuelling strategies and preventing or reversing energy deficiencies to ensure they thrive as an athlete.

We help active individuals FEEL and PERFORM their BEST in accordance with their personalised needs and goals.

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