Play It Safe With Certified Dietary Supplements

NSF International explains why not all supplements are safe and provides guidelines for choosing a safe and effective supplement.

Whether they are Olympic hopefuls or members of collegiate or high school teams, athletes strive to perform at their highest levels. They are dedicated to proper training and good nutrition, and they don't want anything to jeopardize their performance.

With the growing popularity of dietary supplements, athletes participating in organized sports at any level may have concerns about the potential presence of banned substances in supplements. Many reports have been published about athletes who took over-the-counter supplements, only to find out later that the products contained a substance not allowed by their sport.

Banned Substances in Supplements Can Squelch an Athlete's Dreams

Max Jaben, an American-born Israeli swimmer, is all too familiar with the consequences of banned substances in supplements. He was the youngest male to compete in the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. He was also a member of the 2002 USA National Junior Team, and he competed in the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials.

In 2007, Jaben joined the Israeli national swimming team and qualified to participate in the 2008 Olympics. However, shortly before he was scheduled to compete, drug tests detected the steroid boldenone in his system, and he was banned from swimming competitively for two years.

At the time of the incident, Jaben was 22 years old. He was seeing many other athletes using supplements, and he thought they would be helpful for his training. He said, "I understood the risk involved in taking supplements, but never thought it would happen to me. I scanned product labels for banned substances, but put too much trust in the supplement companies."

To this day, Jaben has no idea how he might have been exposed to boldenone. In an effort to identify the source, he had samples of the supplements he had been taking tested by a laboratory. None of the supplements tested positive for boldenone, which occurs naturally in some people. (The World Anti-Doping Agency has since developed

a test to differentiate between natural and synthetic boldenone.)

Because of his experience, Jaben cautions other athletes to be very careful about the products they consume. Today, in addition to following a healthy diet, he carefully reads product labels and only uses supplements that have been tested and certified by the NSF Certified for Sport® program. He says, "Certification takes all of the hard work out of shopping for supplements. If you look for products certified by NSF for Sport®, you are all set."

Jaben now owns Swim Fit LA, which offers swimming lessons by world-class professionals to swimmers of all ages and skill levels.

What Athletes Can Do

It can be challenging to obtain the right information to make educated choices about which dietary supplement products to use. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires prescription and over-the-counter drugs to be tested and proven safe and effective before they can be sold. However, FDA regulations do not apply to dietary supplements unless they contain a new dietary ingredient.

Coaches, athletes and retail store personnel may not have sufficient information about dietary supplement products. Reading labels is important, but it doesn't always provide a complete picture of a product's contents. So where can athletes turn? They can look for supplements that have been tested and certified by an independent accredited laboratory.

Tested and Certified Supplements

Certification from an independent accredited third-party helps confirm that products contain only the ingredients and quantities shown on their labels, without potentially harmful levels of impurities. One such program, NSF Certified for Sport®, certifies that what is on the label is in the bottle and that the product does not contain undeclared ingredients or unsafe levels of contaminants. NCF is unique because it also screens for more than 170 banned or prohibited substances such as narcotics, steroids, stimulants, hormones and other related substances along with diuretics and other masking agents.

Athletes at all levels can buy certified supplements with confidence, knowing that products they're taking do not contain any harmful ingredients. Certified supplements must meet a rigorous set of standards that include comprehensive lab testing and extensive evaluation of the manufacturing process to ensure contaminated substances or hidden ingredients are not added to a product.

These standards and certification requirements are so stringent that many major sports organizations refer to them. For example, NSF International's Certified for Sport® program is recognized by the National Football League, the NFL Players Association, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association.

Find Out More About Dietary Supplement Contents

More information and news on supplement safety can be found on The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) website for athletes ( NSF International is currently the only independent third-party testing and certification organization that meets the stringent requirements of USADA's Supplement 411 program. For a list of NSF Certified for Sport® supplements and to learn more about supplement testing, visit or contact the NSF Consumer Affairs Office, toll-free at 1-800-673-8010.

You can also download a mobile app (for iPhone, iPad and Android) to find dietary supplements and sports nutrition products that have earned NSF Certified for Sport® certification at


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