Many athletes believe they need dietary supplements to perform at their best, but this trust in supplements is undeserved, and it’s important that athletes recognize and reduce their risk if they choose to use supplements. There are often no warning signs that a product is unsafe, and many athletes have suffered health problems or positive drug tests and sanctions from using products that are incorrectly labeled or contaminated with dangerous ingredients, such as anabolic steroids, pharmaceuticals, or research drugs.
If athletes choose to use supplements despite these known risks, USADA has always recommended that athletes use only dietary supplements that have been certified by a third-party program that tests for substances prohibited in sport. Based on a recent consensus statement, USADA now recognizes NSF Certified for Sport® as the program best suited for athletes to reduce the risk from supplements.
Keep reading to learn more about USADA’s recommendation on how to reduce supplement risk.
What is third-party certification of dietary supplements?
Third-party certification of dietary supplements is when an organization that is not the supplement company itself (hence, the third-party) evaluates a dietary supplement and vouches for its quality. Certification is distinct from third-party testing, as testing of the finished product is only one component of a good third-party certification program. Third-party certification also includes an audit of the manufacturing process, an evaluation of the product’s quality, and an evaluation of labeling to ensure it is accurate and compliant with regulations. There are other important aspects of third-party certification that you can read about on Supplement411.org.
Why is third-party certification of dietary supplements important?
Dietary supplements are regulated in a post-market fashion, which means that no regulatory body approves the accuracy of the label or safety of the contents before they are sold to consumers. For athletes subject to anti-doping rules, it’s important to know if a supplement is high quality and free from prohibited substances BEFORE use. A thorough third-party certification program that tests for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) is an important risk-reduction step for athletes.
Third-Party Certification Recommendation
Why is USADA recommending a third-party certification company?
If athletes choose to use supplements despite the risks, USADA has always recommended that athletes use only dietary supplements that have been certified by a third-party program that tests for substances prohibited in sport. This fact remains unchanged.
Now, however, USADA recognizes the NSF Certified for Sport® program as meeting the essential criteria for a third-party certifier set forth in a consensus paper and as a program available to athletes to reduce their risk if they choose to use supplements.
As described in the consensus paper, a program should be accredited to ISO 17065, analytical work should be carried out in a laboratory accredited to 17025 with a scope that includes dietary supplements, the program should certify to the ANSI/NSF 173 Dietary Supplement standard, and the program should have a rigorous program of testing for PEDs.
Why did USADA choose to recommend the NSF Certified for Sport® Program?
USADA, in collaboration with the Uniformed Services University (under the Department of Defense), UFC, Major League Baseball (MLB), and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) put forth a consensus published by the American College for Sports Medicine on the essential criteria of third-party certification programs for drug tested athletes.
In brief, the program must have appropriate accreditations, be free from conflicts of interest, and must conduct testing for substances prohibited in sport. The NSF Certified for Sport® program currently meets the criteria set forth in the consensus statement. USADA recommends that athletes who choose to use supplements despite the risks can reduce this risk by using supplements that are NSF Certified for Sport®.
Click here to learn more about the NSF Certified for Sport® program.
What happens if an NSF Certified for Sport® product is associated with a positive test? Will an athlete still be sanctioned?
Athletes are responsible for anything that goes into their body. Using an NSF Certified for Sport® product significantly reduces, but does not necessarily eliminate, the chance of testing positive. Under the rules, if an athlete tests positive and establishes the source as a contaminated NSF Certified for Sport® product, the athlete could get a much-reduced sanction, but there likely would still be a consequence.
The circumstances of any positive drug test will be evaluated through the standard results management and investigations process to establish the relative degree of fault and ultimate consequence.
Are NSF Certified for Sport® products ok to take?
If a product is NSF Certified for Sport®, that means the product meets all of the standards and criteria of the Certified for Sport certification program. This significantly reduces, but does not entirely eliminate, the risk of testing positive from a contaminated supplement. No dietary supplement can be guaranteed to be 100 percent risk-free. It is still up to each athlete to determine whether they want to take the risk of using dietary supplements and USADA does not approve or evaluate dietary supplement products.
Are NSF Certified for Sport® products USADA-approved?
No. USADA does not approve or evaluate dietary supplement products. Because the NSF Certified for Sport® program has been evaluated and accredited to a number of relevant consensus standards by the American National Standards Institute, USADA acknowledges the supplements that undergo this certification program are low risk, but that doesn’t mean they are zero risk.
Other Third-Party Certifiers
Are NSF Certified for Sport® products the only low-risk products available in the U.S.?
There could be many high quality and low-risk dietary supplements in the U.S., but it is impossible to make a judgement about quality or safety just by looking at the label. USADA recommends that athletes who choose to use supplements use products certified under the NSF Certified for Sport® program. However, no dietary supplement can be guaranteed to be 100 percent risk-free.
What if my coach recommends a product that is not NSF Certified for Sport®? Can I still use it?
Just because a coach or support person recommends a supplement does not mean it’s safe and this will not excuse a positive test. It is up to the athlete to decide whether to use dietary supplements and which ones to use. If you choose to use supplements despite the risk, you could look on the NSF Certified for Sport® website to see if there is an equivalent product to the one that was recommended.
NSF Certified for Sport® significantly reduces, but does not entirely eliminate, the risk of testing positive from a contaminated supplement and that is why USADA cannot approve any particular supplement product. No dietary supplement can be guaranteed to be 100 percent risk-free. It is still up to each athlete to determine whether they want to take the risk of using dietary supplements and USADA does not approve or evaluate dietary supplement products.
Are uncertified supplements or supplements certified by another third-party testing agency banned by USADA?
No. USADA does not ban (or approve) individual dietary supplement products. However, if an athlete uses a dietary supplement that contains or advertises to contain a prohibited substance, the athlete may be subject to an anti-doping rule violation. The use of any dietary supplement is at the athlete’s own risk.
Using NSF Certified for Sport®
How can I find products that are NSF Certified for Sport®? Are they on Global DRO?
NSF Certified for Sport® products should be verified by checking on the NSF Certified for Sport® website or the mobile application. Global DRO does not contain information on, or that applies to, any dietary supplements.
How can I easily recognize the NSF Certified for Sport® mark to avoid any potential confusion?
There are many different logos and NSF marks for quality that are separate from the NSF Certified for Sport® program. The product must be identified by the NSF Certified for Sport® mark.