Whether professional or members of high school teams, athletes strive to perform at their highest levels. They are dedicated to training and good nutrition, and don’t want anything to jeopardize their performance.

With the growing popularity of dietary supplements, athletes participating in organized sports at any level may have concerns about the potential presence of banned substances in supplements. Many reports have been published about athletes who took over-the-counter supplements, only to find out later that the products contained a substance not allowed by their sport.

Banned Substances in Supplements Squelch Athlete’s Dreams

Max Jaben, an American-born Israeli swimmer, is all too familiar with the consequences of banned substances in supplements. He was the youngest male to compete in the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. He also was a member of the 2002 USA National Junior Team and competed in the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials. In 2007 he joined the Israeli national swimming team and qualified to participate at the 2008 Olympics. Shortly before Jaben was scheduled to compete, drug tests detected the steroid boldenone in his system, and he was banned from swimming competitively for two years.

At the time of this incident, Jaben was 22 years old. He was seeing a lot of the other athletes using supplements and thought they would be helpful for his training. He says, “I understood the risk involved in taking supplements but never thought it would happen to me. I scanned product labels for banned substances but put too much trust in the supplement companies.”

To this day, Jaben has no idea how he might have been exposed to boldenone. In an effort to identify the source, he had samples of the supplements he had been taking tested by a laboratory. None of the supplements tested positive for boldenone, which occurs naturally in some people . (The World Anti-Doping Agency has since developed a test to differentiate between natural and synthetic boldenone.)

Because of his experience, Jaben cautions other athletes to be very careful about the products they consume. Today, in addition to following a healthy diet, he carefully reads product labels and only uses supplements that have been tested and certified by the NSF Certified for Sport® program. He says, “NSF takes all of the hard work out of shopping for supplements – if you look for NSF certification, you are all set.”

Jaben now owns Swim Fit LA, which provides swim lessons by world-class professional swimmers for all ages and skill levels.

What Athletes Can Do

It can be challenging to obtain the right information to make educated choices about which products to use. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires prescription and over-the-counter drugs to be tested and proven as safe and effective before they can be sold. However, these regulations do not apply to dietary supplements unless they contain a new dietary ingredient.

Coaches, athletes and retail store personnel may not have all the information about dietary supplement products. Reading labels is important, but it doesn’t always provide a complete picture of a product’s contents either. So where can athletes turn? They can look for supplements that have been tested and certified by an independent accredited laboratory.

Tested and Certified Supplements

Certification from an independent accredited third-party helps confirm that products contain only the ingredients and quantities shown on the label without potentially harmful levels of impurities. One such program, NSF Certified for Sport®, certifies that what is on the label is in the bottle and that the product does not contain unsafe levels of contaminants. It also screens for more than 200 banned or prohibited substances such as narcotics, steroids, stimulants, hormones and other related substances along with diuretics and other masking agents.

NSF International’s Certified for Sport® is recognized by major sports organizations including the National Football League (NFL), the NFL Players Association, Major League Baseball (MLB), the MLB Players Association, the National Hokey League (NHL), the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and the Professional Golf Association (PGA).

NSF Certified for Sport® is based on NSF/ANSI 173, the only American National Standard for dietary supplements. The program involves comprehensive lab testing and an extensive manufacturing process evaluation, including production facility and supplier inspections and ongoing monitoring of manufacturers’ practices.

Find Out More About Dietary Supplement Contents

For a list of NSF Certified for Sport® supplements and to learn more about supplement testing, visit www.nsfsport.com or contact the NSF Consumer Affairs Office toll-free at 1-800-673-8010. You can also look for the NSF certification mark on supplements.

You can also download a mobile app (for iPhone, iPad and Android) to find dietary supplements and sports nutrition products that have earned NSF Certified for Sport® certification.

About the Author

Edward Wyszumiala is the General Manager of NSF International’s Dietary Supplement Certification Program. He has more than nine years of experience in the dietary supplement, sports nutrition and nutraceuticals industry with expertise in product certification, Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), athletic banned substances screening and international dietary supplement regulations. He is a member of American Herbal Products Association, Council for Responsible Nutrition, International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations, and United Natural Products Alliance.

1Project Review: Stable Isotope ratio analysis of nandrolone and boldenone preparations. Retrieved on March 16, 2012. http://www.wada-ama.org/Documents/Science_Medicine/Funded_Research_Projects/2011/11A08CG%20%20Dr%20%20Goebel.pdf