January 2021

4 Tips for Student Athletes Using Dietary Supplements You Can't Afford to Miss

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.
Woman jumping hurdle

While reading labels is important, it doesn’t always provide a complete picture of a product’s contents. Here are four tips for you and your parents:

Does It Really Matter Which Supplement You Buy?

Absolutely. Participating in organized sports at any level may raise concerns about the possibility of banned substances in supplements. Many news stories have covered athletes who took over-the-counter supplements only to find out later that the products contained a substance not allowed by their sport.

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. When choosing supplements, be sure to avoid those that:

  • Claim to be alternatives to anabolic steroids, cause rapid weight loss, or claim to treat or cure disease or a health condition.
  • Contain 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 (like taking two scoops instead of one) can also negatively affect health.
  • Contain adulterants or unapproved synthetic stimulants like N,a- DEPEA, DMAA, DMBA or oxilofrine. These may appear on product labels as ingredient names like geranium extract or 4-amino-2-methylpentane citrate.

Choose Certified Products

NSF's Certified for Sport Mark

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 the NSF’s 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 confirms that products contain the ingredients and quantities shown on the label, and do not contain harmful levels of contaminants like heavy metals or pesticides.
  • Certified supplements are listed at www.nsfsport.com and NSF for Sport app. When looking up specific products, pay close attention to the lot number on the bottle and make sure it matches the lot numbers in the listings.

Talk to Your Health Care Provider

Before taking any supplement, check with a licensed dietitian to talk about your health and what supplements you want to take for performance. A dietitian can help assess your dietary needs as well as make sure that there are no risks of interaction between supplements and medication you may be taking.

One Last Reminder

With the history of adulteration and contamination that has been reported on sport supplements, you need to consider what’s at stake when choosing dietary supplements. Ultimately, as a student athlete, you are solely responsible for anything you take, which is why it is so important to be diligent when looking for certified supplements and deciding which ones are right for you.

To learn more, check out the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Supplement 411 initiative or contact NSF Consumer Information.