Because of the many potential risks associated with supplements, it is important to critically evaluate ergogenic substances prior to using or recommending them. However, evaluating the marketing, research, and safety of products can be a daunting task in the current regulatory environment. How do you decide what is safe and effective?
Several organizations now offer third-party evaluations of dietary supplements. Independent testing of individual products is conducted (usually for a fee) to evaluate such quality control issues as labeling accuracy, purity, strength, and ability to dissolve. For companies that use these services, you will find certifications or seals of approval on their products. A recent certification useful for athletes is the Certified in Sport by NSF International. This program also tests for banned substances. Keep in mind that third-party testing is expensive; the fact that a product is not on the list of certified products does not mean it is unsafe. However, if it is on the list, it meets the criteria set forth by the evaluator.
In recent years, the Australian Institute of Sport has implemented a sport supplement program to ensure that athletes are using sport foods and supplements safely. A panel of experts evaluates current research on various supplements and categorizes them based on how safe and effective they are.
- Group A supplements: Sport foods and supplements that provide a useful and timely source of energy and nutrients or for which there is scientific evidence supporting improved performance
- Group B supplements: Newer supplements on which not enough scientific studies have been conducted, but that may provide a performance benefit as suggested by preliminary evidence
- Group C supplements: Supplements that have not been shown to improve sport performance or that may impair sport performance-most ergogenic substances fall under this category
- Group D supplements: Supplements that are banned or are at high risk of being contaminated with substances (e.g., steroids) that could cause a positive drug test