By: Lilli Rozanski MS, RDN, LDN, Sports and Fitness Dietitian, Thibodaux
Regional Medical Center
Dietary supplements have been used to enhance health and performance since
the early Olympic Games. Today, athletes of all levels are working to
improve their performance and consider whether or not to use a dietary
supplement to get ahead or for health benefit. If you are considering
adding a supplement to your routine here are some facts to consider:
In the United States, dietary supplements are regulated by the FDA and
are defined as “a product taken by mouth that contains a dietary
ingredient and is intended to SUPPLEMENT the diet”. Unlike the strict
approval process for drugs, however, supplement companies do not have
to prove their products are safe or effective before they sell them. The
use of unhealthy, low-quality, or unlisted ingredients is a big problem
in the supplement industry. Even though there are many high-quality and
safe dietary supplements on the market, there is always the possibility
that the supplement an athlete chooses could contain dangerous or illegal
ingredients, leaving athletes vulnerable to misinformation and unintended
Food First Approach:
Before adding a supplement, it is crucial to evaluate the diet. Poor dietary
choices could be why most athletes do not achieve their performance goals.
Performance supplements cannot substitute for a healthy diet. Foods offer
more nutrients than you may realize. In most cases, the vitamins and minerals
in food are better absorbed than those found in supplements. A sports
dietitian can help an athlete evaluate whether their dietary choices need
When thinking about taking a new supplement, ask yourself these important
Is it safe?
Is it legal?
Is it effective?
Can I afford it?
Some supplements do offer real benefits for athletic performance. Dietary
supplements help address or prevent nutrient deficiency that can otherwise
reduce performance. Some products also work by producing a direct performance-enhancing
(ergogenic) effect and have a good evidence base for beneficial effects.
Although there is no risk-free way to choose a supplement, an athlete
can reduce risks in a couple of ways. First, to help evaluate whether
a specific ingredient would benefit an athlete, it is helpful to consult
with a sports dietitian. Second, reduce the risk of using a low-quality
or contaminated product by choosing one that is certified by a reputable
third-party testing agency. These agencies test a product to see if the
label matches the actual ingredients. Agencies like NSF created the “NSF
Certified for Sport” mark to ensure the product quality and purity,
reducing the risk that a dietary supplement contains banned substances.
Even though the certification is safer, there are no guarantees and the
use of any dietary supplement is at your own risk. If you are a serious
athlete who undergoes drug testing, be aware that contaminated dietary
supplements have caused athletes to fail drug tests.
*references available on request*