16 July 2013
The current doping story has raised some serious questions about the safety of sports supplements and whether taking them is a risk too far.
Number one rule for an athlete – know what you’re putting into your body because you and you alone are strictly liable. You need make sure everything you put in your mouth has been tested in a lab and verified (In the UK, look for the Informed Choice voluntary certification on the label).
We’re seeing more athletes defending their positive results go down the tainted supplement route. So what’s going on here? For a start, there’s v little control in the supplement industry: any one can create supplement – there’s no responsibility to test the supplement or state on the label exactly what’s in it. Studies have indeed found that supplements contain substances that aren’t listed on the label.
This means that an athlete taking a supplement without verifying it or testing it is really taking a big risk. But – here’s the important bit – there’s very little evidence that the majority of supplements work…and, if they do, the benefits are pretty small. So here’s the conundrum – why does an athlete take such an enormous risk to get a small benefit vs the huge risk of taking a tainted supplement and getting caught?
Around 70% of positive cases get blamed on a tainted supplement – so why do athletes take them? Surely not through naivety? Or is it just a convenient excuse? Whatever the truth we’re fast becoming more and more cynical about athletes’ performances – what’s the result of incredible human talent and endeavour and what’s chemically assisted? Hmmmm One thing is for certain, everyone wants to win: some will push their bodies to physiological limits through training, others will look to gain an advantage through whatever means possible even if it carries a risk of getting caught inadvertently doping. As long as athletes want to win at all costs, there’s always going to be a market for unethical sports supplements and practitioners.
Now for some practical advice!
- Don’t be taken in by supplements that promise dramatic results. If the manufacturer’s claims sound too good to be true, then they probably are.
- Be sceptical of adverts that contain lots of technical jargon or unnecessary graphs. If the information isn’t clear and factual, leave the supplement well alone.
- Be wary of glossy adverts that rely on astonishing ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos rather than scientifically sound evidence for the supplement.
- Ask the manufacturer for evidence and studies that support the supplement’s claims. If the information isn’t available, don’t touch that supplement.
- Check that any evidence is unbiased. Ideally, studies should have been carried out independently at a university -not funded solely by the manufacturer – and published in a reputable scientific journal.
- Don’t take a supplement that has been recommended only by word of mouth. Check out exactly what is in it and whether it works before you buy it. Ask an expert if you have any questions.
- Be wary of supplements that contain similar endings to a banned substance. For example, supplements ending in ‘one’ are likely to have a similar chemical structure to testosterone.