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By Sally Huggins
While the dietary supplement industry may look like a minefield to an athletic trainer, several resources are available to help.
Because supplements are not as black and white as drugs when it comes to what is safe for a student-athlete, a positive drug test may be the result of an athlete taking a supplement that he or she heard was “natural,” legal, or free of any banned substance.
The reality is that the supplement industry is largely unregulated, and the ingredients listed on the container may not be everything that is in the seemingly innocent performance booster. In addition, the sales clerk behind the counter or others recommending the substance may not be familiar with or able to interpret NCAA policy. Appeals after a positive drug test too often claim reliance on a person outside the NCAA structure for recommending the supplement.
For instance, a product may be described as natural but that word does not make it safe. The term natural does not necessarily mean something is good for the body, said Michele Macedonio, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant and a director of sports dietetics with SCAN (Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition). For example, she said, arsenic is natural but shouldn’t be ingested.
Diane King, sports dietician and certified athletic trainer, said people can’t know what is in a supplement unless they take it to an independent lab. Herbal remedies are especially problematic. Studies have shown that as much as a quarter of the samples had contaminants, often with a banned substance.
King said the more athletic trainers can educate their athletes about nutrition, the less the athletes will fall prey to supplement advertising. A sports nutrition survey of certified athletic trainers at the National Athletic Trainers’ Association meeting last year found that about half of the ATCs felt their understanding of sports nutrition was “good,” and 81 percent rated the significance of nutrition to performance enhancement as “very important.”
The NCAA does not endorse or approve any supplement product, nor does the Association support reliance on a supplement certification service, since there is no way to ensure that every batch of a product that has undergone a certification review is as pure as the batch tested.
More information about supplements is available from the following sources: