The sports supplements category is one of the most lucrative components of the dietary supplement industry. It’s also among the most criticized. When professional athletes are scrutinized for using performance-enhancing substances, oftentimes their go-to claim is that they thought they were taking a legitimate dietary supplement, which casts a wide and harsh glare on products in the entire sports supplement category.
“Athletes are under enormous pressure to maintain peak performance and health levels. In addition to their training, many athletes use dietary supplements and sports nutrition products to help them maintain this fitness level,” commented Ed Wyszumiala, general manager of NSF International Dietary Supplement Certification programs, an independent Ann Arbor, MI-based organization that writes standards and certifies products for food, water and consumer goods to minimize adverse health effects and protect the environment. “Athletes, particularly on the Olympic, professional or collegiate level, have to be extra careful which products they use as some products could unknowingly contain prohibited substances or unsafe levels of contaminants that can lead to adverse health effects or a positive doping test.”
With that in mind, NSF developed a first of its kind certification program for sports supplement products that’s both comprehensive and accredited. The program is called NSF Certified for Sports and it’s currently recognized by major sports organizations such as the NFL, MLB, and their player associations; PGA, LPGA, NCAA and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES).
Mr. Wyszumiala explained NSF Certified for Sport products and ingredients undergo a rigorous testing and certification process that begins by screening for the 165 banned substances and undeclared ingredients prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), NFL, MLB and NCAA. These items include stimulants, narcotics, steroids, diuretics, beta-2-agonists, masking agents and other substances, as well as unsafe levels of contaminants. Then NSF reviews the product’s label claim, certifying what’s on the label is in the bottle. A toxicology review follows to certify the product formulation (minus testing for efficacy). A contaminant review ensures there are no undeclared ingredients or unacceptable levels of contaminants in the product. Finally, annual GMP audits ensure ongoing compliance, along with on-site inspections to ensure banned substances are not manufactured or stored at the facility.
Mr. Wyszumiala said that while some labs are capable of testing for specific contaminants or a limited amount of the WADA-prohibited substances, there is currently no other global program that provides the level of comprehensive evaluation like the NSF Certified for Sport program.
Interestingly, collegiate and professional sports organizations aren’t the only entities having issues with sports supplements. According to an article published in The New York Times, the United States Army has pledged to take a closer at the role of “workout” supplements sold at their military bases following the death of two soldiers.
Peter Graves, an Army spokesperson, told The New York Times the soldiers died after having had heart attacks during fitness exercises, and subsequently identified dimethylamylamine (DMAA) in their toxicology reports. In addition, he said the Army was also aware of other military personnel who had reported liver and kidney failure, seizures, loss of consciousness and rapid heartbeat after having used products containing DMAA. Mr. Graves affirmed the Army was evaluating whether there were links between the use of the DMAA products and the aforementioned health problems.
As a precaution, the Defense Department subsequently removed all products containing DMAA from military base stores, including more than 100 GNC shops, pending the completion of an Army safety review, Mr. Graves said.
NSF’s Mr. Wyszumiala, was quoted in The New York Times article. He defined DMAA as a “stimulant similar to amphetamine.” While DMAA is said to be a naturally-occurring compound in an Asian geranium plant, Mr. Wyszumiala pointed out that the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly originally developed DMAA in the 1940s as a nasal decongestant formula called Forthane.
In a statement, Dallas, TX-based USPlabs, marketers of two supplements that contain DMAA, maintained that the ingredient was safe and that no medical evidence suggested otherwise as long as the product was used as directed. The company also said it was fully cooperating with the inquiry by the Defense Department.
Last summer, the United States Anti-Doping Agency issued a warning notice about DMAA to athletes; however, there is still concern for ordinary consumers.
To that end, NSF recently released a mobile phone app which underscores its NSF Certified for Sportprogram by helping athletes, health and fitness enthusiasts, parents of young athletes, coaches and other consumers avoid dietary supplements and sport nutrition products that contain prohibited substances and unsafe levels of contaminants. “We developed the NSF Sport mobile app to make finding NSF Certified for Sport certified products even easier,” said Mr. Wyszumiala. “Athletes and consumers alike can now download the NSF Sport app and search by product name or company as they shop to easily identify those products that have earned NSF Certified for Sport certification. With spring training in full force and the Summer Olympics just around the corner, the NSF Sport app has proved be a very useful tool for athletes in particular.”
The NSF Sport app is available to both iPhone and Android users for free.