Posted by Editoress on 06/15/02
Should You Use Supplements?
The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) is aware that nutraceutical products and dietary supplements ("supplements") are already widely available to athletes and to the general public. Athletes have told us that gaining credible and reliable information on supplements is a priority for them. The CCES is always seeking to provide athletes with reliable information and guidance so that they play fairly, do not inadvertently harm themselves or their competitors and do not test positive for prohibited substances.
Many Canadians, including a substantial number of Canadian athletes, use supplements because they believe it necessary to augment their regular nutrition. They believe supplement use may make them healthier, may alter body composition, may provide them with additional energy and may enhance athletic performance. Inherent in these beliefs is that often-incorrect notion that supplements are effective and safe for all people under all circumstances.
This Advisory Note reiterates the CCES' concern about use of supplements by athletes. It also provides athletes who already use supplements, or are considering using them, with a series of issues and questions they ought to consider and discuss with their coaches, doctors, nutritionists and other support personnel.
Concerns About Supplements
CCES discourages the use of supplements, from both a scientific and an ethical point of view. Evidence-based research has not demonstrated clearly that dietary supplementation leads to enhanced athletic performance. Moreover, supplements may contain prohibited substances that provide athletes with an unfair advantage over their competitors and may cause athletes to test positive. Because of these issues, the CCES cannot encourage supplement use and does not support supplement product endorsement by sport organisations.
The CCES' concerns have been set out in a series of Advisory Notes. The most recent, an Advisory Note issued September 13, 2001, stated:
Dietary supplements can contain banned substances. Regulation of dietary supplements in Canada and elsewhere is limited. It does not guarantee the content and accurate labeling of dietary supplements. The contents of particular products may change from batch to batch. Labels do not always indicate all of the ingredients. Nor do they always do so in a way that identifies banned substances. It is not possible for the CCES or any other organization to guarantee that all the ingredients have been listed on the packaging and/or whether the composition may vary during production from batch to batch, without notice. Athletes use dietary supplements at their own risk of testing positive and committing a doping infraction.
The connection between dietary supplements and positive test results for banned substances such as ephedra and nandrolone has been widely reported for a number of years. The CCES has issued four previous Advisory Notes concerning the risks of dietary substances. High-profile international athletes in a number of sports have tested positive because they have used dietary supplements. Athletes (and their coaches, trainers and doctors) can no longer credibly claim ignorance of the risks of positive test results due to use of dietary supplements.
Should You Use Supplements?
The decision whether to use a supplement should not be taken in isolation as an athlete, you should consult appropriately trained and qualified people such as your sports' nutritionist, doctor or sport scientist. Your decision must weigh the benefits the substance may provide to an overall sports nutrition and training program against adverse side effects and risk of a positive drug test. Using a comprehensive decision-making process in consultation with appropriately trained and qualified people should help to minimise the risk of side effects or positive drug tests. At the very least, you should consider:
Prohibited and/or illegal substances
Does the product or supplement contain a prohibited or illegal substance? If so don't use it!
Personal Objectives and Options
When considering the use of a supplement, you should first clarify your desired outcome. What is your objective and can a supplement help you achieve the goal? What other factors influence the achievement of the goal and which of these can be influenced and how? What other options are available to you to achieve the objective? It is important that other methods of improving performance (that are well documented and supported) are not ignored or overlooked because of a supplement programme. Sport-specific training, good nutrition and adequate sleep are fundamental.
What are the likely benefits that the supplement can provide? Are the claims made about the product supported by scientific evidence? Do qualified personnel support the use of the substance and the reported claims? Remember that supplement use often moves in cycles/trends will this supplement still be in use in 2, 6 or 12 months time or is it just a "fad"?
Known or potential side effects/toxicity
What are the known or potential side effects from use of the substance? Has the substance been associated with toxicological problems or does it have levels above which toxicity or adverse effects occur? Have there been adequate investigations to allow this to be assessed? Does the supplement have a potential for negative effects on performance? Are there any indications of problems from interactions with other substances or medicines?
A supplement programme can be an expensive exercise, and you will need to consider this in your overall budget and financial priorities. What will you give up to be able to afford supplements? Supplements usually cost more than normal food. The overall cost will depend on the specific product and the anticipated consumption regime. Another consideration is your source(s) of funding and any restrictions associated with it, i.e. some funding organisations may not allow athletes to use their funding to buy supplements. You should also consider the financial risk in terms of the chances of achieving the claimed benefits versus the risk of side effects or positive drug tests.
Taking all of this into consideration you may decide that the cost is justifiable based on the anticipated benefits, or that due to the expense you will limit the use of the supplement to certain periods during the year, or certain times or locations. Alternatively you might deem the risk and expense as too high and therefore choose a different route to achieve your goals.
Managing the Risk
There are no fail-safe methods or criteria for reliably identifying "good-quality" products. You should at least:
Choose a company with a strong history of ethical practices and a solid reputation for producing high-quality products. Care is needed to differentiate between strong marketing strategies and a solid reputation for producing high-quality products.
Consider what other products are made by the company and whether there is potential for contamination or adulteration.
Compare ingredient doses carefully and be sure to read the fine print. Choose products that clearly specify the full plant name, the plant part used, the weight, the concentration and the equivalent amount of raw herb that the dosage unit provides. However, what is printed on the label provides no guarantee of what is in the bottle.
Consider, choosing products from companies that also produce pharmaceuticals, since they generally have high corporate standards for quality. However, this does not guarantee that the product is free from prohibited substances. For herbals and botanical products, a thorough understanding of the unique quality problems is also required.
Ask retailers what procedures, if any, are employed to ensure that products on their shelves are of high quality.
Consider seeking a written guarantee for support and compensation from the manufacturer in case the supplements are implicated in a positive test result.
Look for a telephone number or address to contact the manufacturer in order to obtain information or assurances about the product and quality control procedures, especially in relation to anti-doping rules.
Check with the CCES or other relevant authority while it may not have any information about many supplement products, it may have previous experience with a particular product, and may help identify banned or restricted substances that are listed as ingredients.
The Centre for Substance Use in Sport and Health (SUSH) advocates a seven-question model called "Taking It" to help individuals make informed decisions whether a supplement is worthwhile:
Fair Play: Is taking the substance considered ethical behaviour? Does this behaviour go against the rules of sport?
Legal: Is this substance legal?
Performance: Will this substance enhance or harm your performance?
Health benefits: Does this substance promote health and/or prevent disease?
Medical side effects: Will you experience medical side effects at the doses ingested?
Safety: Can taking this substance impact on personal safety or the safety of others?
Financial: How will this substance affect your personal or corporate financial situation?
Please remember that athletes always bear the ultimate responsibility for the products they ingest.
Should you require further information regarding supplements, please contact the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport at:
Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport
202 - 2197 Riverside Drive
Tel.: (613) 521-3340
Toll-Free: 1 (800) 672-7775
Fax: (613) 521-3134
|Return to Canadian Cyclist homepage | Back to Top|