Supplements

Supplements can pose a risk to the health and career of athletes.
 

What are supplements?

Nutritional supplements cover a broad range of products including vitamins, minerals, herbs, meal supplements, sports nutrition products, natural food supplements, and other related products used to boost the nutritional content of the diet.
 
The marketplace supplies thousands of supplements claiming to provide nutritional support for athletes. Some of these consist of high-protein products, such as amino acid supplements, while other products contain nutrients that support metabolism, energy, and athletic performance and recovery. Supplements can be found in pill, tablet, capsule, powder or liquid form.
 
 

What risks are associated with using supplements?

Athletes who take supplements are at risk of committing an anti-doping rule violation. This is because substances prohibited in sport may be added deliberately during the supplement manufacturing process, or included inadvertently through contamination. As such, we are unable to advise athletes whether a specific supplement, or batch of a supplement, contains prohibited substances.

The presence of a prohibited substance in a supplement may result in an anti-doping rule violation, whether its use was intentional or unintentional. Under the World Anti-Doping Code’s strict liability principle, athletes are ultimately responsible for any substance found in their body, regardless of how it got there.

In addition to facing a possible ban from sport, there are some supplements on the market that contain prohibited stimulants which can pose health risks for athletes and potentially expose them to criminal sanctions. Examples include:

  • Methylhexaneamine (also known as DMAA) has been found within supplements. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) declared the use of DMAA illegal in 2012. DMAA is a toxic substance with dangerous side effects and has been linked to a death in Australia.  
  • N,alpha-diethyl-benzeneethanamine is considered by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) an analogue of the border controlled substance methamphetamine under the Criminal Code (Commonwealth). Products containing this ingredient are subject to seizure by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service and, under existing arrangements between the agencies, will be referred to the AFP for investigation and prosecution action.

Important—these prohibited substances are not always listed on the supplement’s ingredient label.

Assess the need

Before considering the use of supplements an athlete should look to optimise their diet, lifestyle and training. Consulting an accredited sports dietitian, nutritionist, or medical expert can help an athlete assess whether there is any need to, or benefit in, taking supplements.

Assess the risk

The risk of doping through the use of supplements is real. Prior to using any supplement, an athlete should ask themselves:

  • Is it legal?
  • Is it safe?
  • Is it effective (in improving performance)?
  • Is it necessary?

If in doubt about the first two questions, the product should not be used. The third and fourth questions are intended to help the athlete consider what potential benefit, if any, the supplement may offer.

Despite the claims made by supplement manufacturers that their products are safe and free of substances prohibited in sport, it is not possible to offer an absolute guarantee to athletes. It is for this reason ASADA and WADA do not endorse supplement products or offer advice to athletes about which supplement to take. There have been cases where both Australian and international athletes have been sanctioned after they have used supplements that they thought were safe, but were actually contaminated with prohibited substances.

If an athlete chooses to use supplements, they should weigh up the risks and make an informed decision.

False advertising

From time to time we find supplement products promoted as ‘ASADA approved’ or ‘ASADA endorsed’. These promotions are false and may lead to serious consequences for athletes. ASADA and the World Anti-Doping Agency do not endorse supplement products.

Can a supplements company have their products approved by ASADA?

ASADA is not involved in any certification process regarding supplements and therefore does not certify or endorse manufacturers or their products. We do not control the quality or the claims of the supplements industry. If a company wishes to promote its products to the sport community, it is its responsibility as a manufacturer to ensure that the products do not lead to any anti-doping rule violation.