The hidden cost of supplements

With no regulations on labeling or ingredients of nutritional supplements, how do athletes know what they are taking?

This problem is highlighted by the case of Canadian bobsleigh pilot Serge Despres, a 2006 Olympian and Canadian champion. A doping test in 2007 placed him 0.9 nanograms per millilitre above the accepted limit for nandrolone, a naturally occurring substance in he body. This positive result was, most agree, the result of taking a nutritional supplement to help recover from a hip injury. The positive result still stands, however, and Despres has been banned from competing for 24 months, and has not been able to train as part of the national team or receive federal funding for that time.

He is now an advocate for Clean Sport Initative, an education forum for the prevention of accidental doping in sport. It was hosted by a company called NSF International in which manufacturers submit nutritional supplements to be tested for some 130 banned substances on the World Anti-Doping Association’s drug list before they are consumed by athletes. The testing process costs $2500 per batch, and must be done for each batch of a product to receive certification. About 50 products have been certified to date.

“At least with this program in place, athletes can see a certified mark on the label and have confidence,” said Ed Wyszumiala, general manager for NSF International.

Dana Lis, SportMed Nutrition’s Dietitian commented “It is imperative to weigh the risks and benefits when taking supplements. As a nutrition professional it is important that I do my homework when reviewing supplements that my athletes are taking; this includes investigating if any batches have been tested by NSF, researching the products, contacting the manufacturer, and reviewing the literature. We know of another athlete who had taken a nutrition/recovery supplement recommended by their personal trainer that ended up triggering a positive doping result due to a banned ingredient that was not listed on the label. It was a costly mistake as the athlete lost his wages as a professional as well as his credibility and potential future contracts”.

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