As a student athlete, you’re concerned about performing at your best. So if you’re thinking of taking nutritional supplements, it’s a smart idea to do your homework before starting to take or combining any supplements.

Does it really matter which supplement you buy?

Absolutely. Participating in organized sports at any level may raise concerns about the potential for the 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.

While reading labels is important, it doesn’t always provide a complete picture of a product’s contents. It’s important to do your research before you buy any supplements. Here are a few tips:

Learn the risks. Some supplements may contain banned substances that can potentially disqualify student athletes from competition. Supplements can also contain unhealthy and illegal ingredients.

  • Avoid supplements that claim to be alternatives to anabolic steroids, cause rapid weight loss, or claim to treat or cure disease or a health condition.
  • Watch out for products containing high levels of caffeine, green tea extract and other stimulants, as they may lead to restlessness, anxiety, racing heart or an irregular heartbeat, especially in teens. Mixing supplements or taking them at a higher than recommended dose can also adversely affect health.
  • Avoid using products containing adulterants or unapproved synthetic stimulants like N,a-DEPEA, DMAA, DMBA or oxilofrine, which may appear on product labels under ingredient names like geranium extract or 4-amino-2-methylpentane citrate.

Choose certified products. Even reading a label thoroughly may not provide all the information you need. Dietary supplements do not require FDA approval before they are sold to consumers, so look for products that have been tested under NSF Certified for Sport® program.

  • Products tested under this program are confirmed not to contain substances banned by many anti-doping and   professional sports organizations, including the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Football League (NFL), the National Hockey League (NHL) and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (CCES).
  • This certification also helps confirm that products contain the ingredients and quantities shown on the label without containing unacceptable levels of heavy metals, pesticides and contaminants.
  • Pay close attention to the lot number on the bottle and ensure it matches with the lot numbers tested and certified in our Certified for Sport listings.

Talk to your health care provider. Before taking any supplement, check with a licensed dietitian or your health care provider to understand if you need to supplement your diet for health and performance purposes. In many cases, a dietitian or health care professional can help assess dietary needs as well as make sure that there is no risk of interaction  between supplements and any medication you may be taking.

With the history of adulteration and contamination that has been reported, student athletes need to consider what’s at stake when choosing a dietary supplement. Ultimately, the only person who is responsible for taking a product is the person who ingests it, which is why it is so important to be diligent when deciding on what supplements to take.

For a current list of Certified for Sport® certified supplements and to learn more about the testing of supplements, visit and download the NSF for Sport App. Also check out the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Supplement 411 initiative or contact NSF Consumer Information at