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Beware! Sports Supplements Can Contain Dangerous Contaminants

Potentially dangerous contaminants can find their way into your supplements, like protein powder. Learn how to avoid them with our expert tips.

Whether you’re a weekend athlete or getting your game on for an intense fitness boot camp, you may add supplements to your regimen to boost your athletic prowess. But sports supplements aren’t always what they seem — many may contain dangerous contaminants.

Learn the best ways to help ensure that your dietary supplements have been tested and certified for quality, purity, and safety from NSF. John Travis, Technical Leader for NSF’s Certified for Sport® dietary supplement certification and banned substance screening program, is the go-to expert when it comes to nutritional drinks, energy bars, and sports supplements — an industry that is expected to jump in value from $13.9 billion in 2018 to $35.35 billion by 2025 in the United States alone.

Sports supplements aren’t always what they seem — many contain dangerous contaminants.

Travis shares this caveat: As with other dietary supplements, workout supplements are regulated like food and presumed to be safer unless found otherwise. It’s a good idea to research their effects and ingredients and consult your physician before adding them to your fitness routine. Here are four tips for making sure your supplements are contaminant free:

Cautionary Tales

It’s best to approach supplements with caution and speak to a physician before using them. Supplements contain a wide variety of ingredients and dosages. Some may be safer for one person but could potentially cause adverse effects in another. It’s essential that you as a consumer consult your doctor, read the labels, and stay within the manufacturer’s directions for use.

Do Your Homework

Check out what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says on its website about the supplement company you are considering. The FDA website has information on public health alerts, recalls, warnings, and health fraud within the supplement industry.

Be Cautious of Claims

Some supplements may contain banned substances that could disqualify you or your student-athlete from sports competitions. Others can contain unhealthy or illegal ingredients. You may be inclined to grab whichever product makes the best claims but beware of ones like “gain muscle mass instantly” or “immediate energy boost.” If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Sometimes unlisted or hidden stimulants, such as ephedrine, are added to products to enhance their effects. Be aware when products:

  • Claim to be an alternative to anabolic steroids, cause rapid weight loss, or treat or cure a disease or health condition
  • Contain high levels of caffeine (more than 200 milligrams per serving) and other stimulants, which can lead to restlessness, anxiety, and elevated or irregular heartbeat
  • Contain adulterants or unapproved synthetic stimulants, which may appear on product labels as ingredient names like geranium extract or 4-AMP citrate

Use Only Certified Products

The easiest way to know that a supplement is accurately labeled and not contaminated is simple. Turn the bottle around and look for an independent, accredited certification mark, like the NSF Certified for Sport® mark. Knowing the product has been tested by an independent third party like NSF for contaminants, such as pesticides, heavy metals, or substances prohibited in sport, provides you with the assurance of a safer product.

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