Supplements: The Risks
(The text on the bottle is most definitely NOT true...)
Taking supplements as an athlete can be risky in terms of adhering to the rules of clean sport and anti-doping. For the ‘clean’ athlete, the obvious risk is one of contamination with a banned substance. Another less obvious but significant risk is a psychological one. There is now growing evidence that shows that those who take supplements are more likely to dope. In fact, a recent research study found athletes who took dietary supplements were 2.5 times more likely to dope.
An associated report also found that anti-doping rule violations due to supplements accounted for a third of positive doping tests in Australia, between 2016-2019. Read the report click here (4min read).
Several high-profile cases in the media have involved athletes who have taken supplements in the belief that they are acceptable and harmless, only to fail a drug test due to them being contaminated with traces of banned substances.
These cases highlight the risks of taking supplements for ‘clean’ athletes.
In short, the risks are real.
Here are some key points for parents to consider:
Supplements can have hidden banned substances due to contamination during the manufacturing process, which can lead to positive doping tests. As dietary supplements are often produced in factories that also manufacture products containing banned substances, cross-contamination is a very real risk.
Lack of Regulation:
Supplements are not as strictly regulated as medicines, so it's hard to guarantee their safety or the absence of banned substances.
Some supplements may contain undisclosed ingredients, including banned substances, which can result in unintentional doping violations.
Taking supplements excessively or in combination with other substances can also harm health, causing issues like digestion problems or hormonal imbalances.
Education and Informed Choices:
Athletes should be aware of supplement risks and always consult a professional for guidance on nutrition and potential alternatives.
Dr Phil Hurst is a senior lecturer in Sport & Exercise Psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University. His main areas of research are doping in sport, the use of supplements, and the placebo effect. Phil competed for GB at international level as a middle-distance runner, primarily 1500m and 3k.
The Risks of Taking Supplements:
Young Athletes Don't Need Supplements:
Batch Tested Supplements:
Joel Clarke-Khan, GB High Jump
Supplement Advice from GB Athlete:
How You Can Help
Have conversations with your athlete to ensure they fully understand that athletes are 100% accountable when it comes to doping… the buck literally stops with them.
The 100% Me programme has been specifically designed to help athletes navigate the world of ‘clean sport’. Click here for more information.
Make sure they fully understand that ‘accidentally’ doping (eg. contaminated supplements) is very, very hard to prove… not using supplements removes this risk completely.
Ensure they understand that all of their dietary requirements for great performances can come from good, athlete-centred, healthy eating.
Remember the shocking statistic mentioned above… anti-doping rule violations due to supplements accounted for a third of positive doping tests in Australia, between 2016-2019….
Note: IF your athlete insists on using supplements, and let’s face it, the peer pressure and influence from social media are absolutely HUGE, insist they only use those endorsed by the ‘Informed Sport’ logo. Their certified brands have been batch tested for banned substances.
*ONLY EVER BUY PRODUCTS WITH THIS LOGO ON 👇
Take Home Point
Parents should become well-informed about the risks of supplements in relation to clean sports and anti-doping.
Understand that supplements may contain hidden banned substances due to contamination or mislabeling. Ensure your athlete understands the risks and the importance of informed choices. Seek guidance from professionals for nutritional advice and alternatives to supplements.
IF they are determined to use supplements, insist they choose reputable brands that have undergone rigorous testing ie. have the INFORMED SPORT logo.
Encourage a focus on whole foods and a balanced diet to obtain essential nutrients. By staying informed and maintaining open communication, parents can help their young athletes make informed choices and prioritise clean sport values.
Our content is supported by the following evidence-based research:
Hurst, P., Schiphof-Godart, L., Kavussanu, M., Barkoukis, V., Petróczi, A. and Ring, C., 2023. Are dietary supplement users more likely to dope than non-users?: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Drug Policy, 117, p.104077.