Sports nutrition supplements tempt athletes with promises of sleek, powerful bodies produced by pills, potions, and powders. However, many supplements are risky for athletes because an estimated 5% to 20% contain prohibited substances and unlabeled pharmaceuticals. Dietary supplements considered most at risk of containing unlabeled drugs and prohibited substances include those for sexual enhancement, weight loss, and muscle building. Sports governing bodies have banned or prohibited certain substances for athletes competing in all levels of sports; high school, college, elite, professional, and master athletes can all be tested. The banned ingredients can be in products unintentionally, due to poor hygiene in producing the supplement, or intentionally by the purposeful addition of unlabeled substances, such as anabolic steroids. Regardless of how the prohibited ingredient found its way into a dietary supplement, all sports organizations have a “strict liability” policy; that is, athletes are responsible for anything they put in their bodies, including dietary supplements. This article examines the issue of sports supplement contamination and provides athletes with resources to evaluate risky dietary supplements.
Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, CSSD, FAND, is professor emerita of nutrition at Georgia State University. She currently consults with athletes of all ages through her business, Chris Rosenbloom Food and Nutrition Services, LLC. She is editor-in-chief of Sports Nutrition: A Manual for Professionals (5th ed, 2012) published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as well as their online Sports Nutrition Care Manual.
Bob Murray, PhD, FACSM, is managing principal of Sports Science Insights, LLC, a consulting group that works with companies and organizations interested in exercise science and sports nutrition. He was a cofounder of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and served as its director for 23 years (1985–2008).
Dr. Rosenbloom is an expert panel member and Dr. Murray is the Scientific Director, Aegis Shield, Nashville, Tennessee.
Correspondence: Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, CSSD, FAND, 179 Honeysuckle Lane, Hartwell, GA 30643 (email@example.com).