Risks of supplements use

Extreme caution is recommended regarding the use of nutritional supplement, particularly for athletes. A number of positive tests have been attributed to the misuse of supplements, poor labelling and supplement contamination.

There is no 100% guarantee that a supplement is free from prohibited substances but there are ways to significantly minimise the risks.

Risks of supplements include:

  • Manufacturing standards, which are often less strict when compared with medicines. These lower standards often lead to supplement contamination at production facilities;
  • Fake or low-quality products which may contain prohibited substances and other substances that are harmful to health;
  • Mislabelling of supplements – ingredients listen in the wrong dosage, or not at all identified on the product label;
  • False claims that a particular supplement is endorsed by Anti-Doping Organisations or that it is “safe for athletes”. Remember, Anti-Doping Organisations do not certify supplements – this is done by independent companies.
  • Because dietary supplements are regulated in a post-market manner, no authority systematically analyses the safety, efficacy, or contents of supplements before they are sold to consumers.
  • There are many products on the market currently that aren’t labeled as dietary supplements but are instead labeled as ‘for research purposes only’, or may not have any kind of label. As a reminder to athletes and athlete support persons, these products should be considered risky from both a health and anti-doping perspective.

  • Athletes should always investigate the source of the product. Never use a product unless you have checked the ingredients against the Prohibited List and fully investigated the source of that product. If you have any questions, always contact CyADA before using the product.
  • Never use a pill, capsule, powder, drink, injectable, or other product that has been removed from its packaging by anyone other than you.
  • Use extreme caution when considering substances from supplement stores, vitamin stores, and online suppliers.
  • Be aware of red flag marketing claims and never use products that make claims about weightloss, sexual enhancement, muscle-building, testosterone-boosting, or pre-workout energy boosting.
  • It is risky to use products from a seller that also sells products containing prohibited substances, markets to bodybuilders, or makes extreme claims about the performance-enhancing benefits of the product.
  • No product should ever be used that is advertised as being for research purposes only, or not for human consumption.

All athletes should do a risk-benefit assessment if they are considering the use of supplements. The first step of such an assessment is to consider whether a “food-first” approach meets the athlete’s needs. Whenever possible, such an assessment should be done with the support of a certified nutritionist who is familiar with the anti-doping system.

CyADA’s core message on supplements is that diet, lifestyle and training should all be optimised before considering the use of supplements. Athletes should assess the need for supplements by always consulting an accredited sports dietitian, a registered nutritionist with expertise in sports nutrition, or a medical doctor, before taking supplements.

Athletes are advised to be vigilant in their decision to use any supplement. No guarantee can be given that any particular supplement is free from prohibited substances. Athletes should keep in mind the important principle of Strict Liability: they are ultimately responsible for any prohibited substances found in their system. If athletes don’t feel confident that they know what they are putting into their body, it is safer to avoid using it.

If an athlete makes the decision to use supplements, they should assess the associated risks and make informed decisions about the products they opt to use. Supplements may claim to be drug-free or safe for drug-tested athletes; however, it is not possible to guarantee that specific supplements are free of prohibited substances – it is only possible to reduce the risk of inadvertent doping by making informed decisions.

If an athlete chooses to use dietary supplements despite the known risks, CyADA recommends the use of products that have been certified by a third-party.

NB. Using certified products reduces, but does not eliminate, the health and anti-doping risk athletes assume when using a supplement.

Always use supplements and doses that are safe. Select supplements that have been batch-tested by an independent company. Companies that batch-test supplements include: