“Is this protein powder good for me? Is it maximizing recovery? Is whey or plant-based protein powder better for me?” These are among the many questions that we athletes have. We want to make sure our muscles are recovering efficiently and effectively.
But perhaps the most important question we should be asking is:
“Is this supplement safe for me?” Let’s take a deep dive into understanding supplements and their safety concerns.
Let’s first discuss the implications: Why do we need to understand the safety of supplements? Unlike food products, the FDA does not approve of supplements. There is no proof of a supplements effectiveness or safety. Therefore, it is unknown whether the labels are being truthful about their ingredients or impact on the human body. This leads to uncertainty of whether there are banned substances in the supplement or not. Banned substances include a list of drug classes created by the NCAA that are illegal to be present on a drug test.
A prime example of false marketing and banned substances can be explored by one of the most popular drinks currently on the market: Celsius. In the past few years, the energy drink Celsius has blown up and has become one of the most heavily consumed ‘pre-workout’ drinks (Potentially one of the worst pre-workouts out there, but we won't get into that here.) The ingredients of this popular drink includes guarana which is among the list of many banned substances in the NCAA. It’s clear to see how we can get mixed up in the marketing and claims of popular items on the market. Unintentionally consuming a popular drink with banned substances can lead to many issues with a positive drug test.
So how do we combat this?
This is where third party testing labels come in. There are three different potential labels to break down:
This certification guarantees that the product’s claims and labels are truthful, there are no harmful ingredients, the product is repeatedly tested, the manufacturing site is safe, and more.
This certification focuses specifically on supplements made and marketed for sports and athletes. They specifically test for the banned substances list created by the NCAA.
This certification focuses on all dietary supplements. This certification goes through the same testing, however does not specifically focus on sport products.
This label is specifically for vitamins and minerals. This certification makes sure the ingredients are exactly what they claim, the supplement won’t cause harm, the supplement will absorb properly, and the manufacturing site is safe.
The key to making sure if a supplement is safe is finding one of these labels (specifically NSF, Informed Sport, or USP) AND talking to your sports dietitian. When in doubt, talk it out! We are here to make sure you are not only being safe but that your body is receiving all of the benefits it needs to grow and recover.