Supplements in sport
Many failed anti-doping tests in Australia are from using supplements.
Our advice is that no supplement is safe to use. As an athlete, you should not risk your career by taking a supplement because many supplements are contaminated with substances prohibited in sport. These may not be listed on ingredient labels.
We do recognise that there may be circumstances where sports dieticians recommend supplements, or where you will take the risk and use supplements. In these circumstances, our advice is to only use supplements that have been screened for prohibited substances by an independent company (also known as ‘batch testing’), such as HASTA or Informed Sport. Supplements screened by these companies cannot offer a full guarantee that an athlete will not test positive, but they are significantly less risky than other supplements.
For more information download the Sport Integrity mobile app on Google Play or Apple stores. This app lists supplements sold on Australian shelves, which have been certified by HASTA or Informed Sport. It also provides a risk analysis for other supplements you may be considering. The app will also warn you if you have searched for a supplement that we know contains, or lists, a banned ingredient.
To protect your sporting career it’s important to be aware of the 3 A’s:
- (Be) Aware
- (Do your) Analysis
- (Take steps to) Avoid
Many people use supplements in the hope it might help their performance. However, supplements pose a real risk for athletes. Every year multiple Australian athletes receive anti-doping bans as a result of supplement use.
Being aware of the risks is the first step to staying in the game.
Nutritional supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs, meal supplements, sports nutrition products, natural food supplements, and other related products used to boost the nutritional content of the diet.
The marketplace supplies thousands of supplements claiming to provide nutritional support for athletes. Some of these consist of high-protein products, such as amino acid supplements, while other products contain nutrients that support metabolism, energy, and athletic performance and recovery. Supplements can be found in pill, tablet, capsule, powder or liquid form.
Research has shown that the ingredient list on supplements doesn't always match the product contents. That makes it difficult for you to know exactly what is going into your body. It is not uncommon for banned substances to be added deliberately during the manufacturing process, or added accidentally through contamination. Because of this, we are unable to guarantee whether a specific supplement, or batch of a supplement, is safe to use.
Consequences of supplement use by athletes
Products containing a prohibited substance can result in you being banned for up to four years.
The presence of a prohibited substance in a supplement may result in an anti-doping rule violation. This is the case whether you used it intentionally or not. Under the World Anti-Doping Code’s strict liability principle, athletes are ultimately responsible for any substance found in their body, regardless of how it got there. That means, even if the prohibited substance is not listed on the label of a supplement, if you consume it, you are still responsible.
Watch marathon runner, Cassie Fien, tell her personal story about the risks.
In 2016, life science company LGC conducted the Australian Supplements Survey. This survey analysed 67 common supplement products available for purchase in Australia. They found one in 5 products contained one or more substances banned in sport. Importantly, none of the products identified listed any banned substances on their ingredients list.
A study by New Zealand’s Otago University Department of Physiology also found several supplements on sale in New Zealand and Australia that contained steroids not declared on their labels.
Australian athletes talk about supplements in sport
Many elite Australian athletes avoid supplements all together. Multiple Olympic medalist, Kim Brennan stated it clearly when she said: ‘Supplements aren't going to win you a gold medal.’
The risk of doping through the use of supplements is real and doing research can be your best form of defence.
Prior to using any supplement, ask yourself:
- Has it been tested?
- Is it safe?
- Before taking it, is it effective (in improving performance) or necessary?
Supplement Risk Analysis
We have produced a one-page fact sheet to help people assess the risk of supplement use. This resource should be read alongside the information on this page, so you can make a fully informed decision prior to the use of a supplement product.
Has it been tested?
If you decide to take a supplement, the first question you should ask about a product is, 'has it been tested for banned substances?'
There are a number of companies that offer laboratory analysis of supplements to check whether they contain banned substances. HASTA and Informed Sport are two major testers operating in Australia. They screen products, including protein powders, creatine powders, pre-work outs and recovery products.
You can see details of products tested by Informed Sport or HASTA using the Sport Integrity mobile app (available on the Google Play or Apple stores), using each company’s webpage, or look for these logos when shopping for products:
Supplements which are screened by these companies undergo testing for every single batch, and have their manufacturing factories examined for possible contamination. Although batch tested products are the lowest risk supplements, they do not provide a guarantee against testing positive, and you can still face anti-doping sanctions if you test positive from one of these products.
Remember, no supplement is 100% safe. The only way to have zero risk, is to take zero supplements.
Checking ingredients online
You can use our online substance checking tool, Global DRO, to check thousands of ingredients and their status in sport, including individual ingredients listed on supplement labels.
Words of caution …
Despite the claims made by supplement manufacturers that their products are safe and free of substances prohibited in sport, there is a risk associated with the use of any supplement. Supplements may contain prohibited substances even if every ingredient listed on the label is approved by Global DRO.
When researching supplement ingredients be aware that supplement manufacturers may use alternate names. Be particularly wary of ingredients with chemical names or plant extracts.
At a minimum, you should check every ingredient on Global DRO. However, this still does not guarantee that the supplement is safe to use as some supplements contain substances not listed on the ingredient label.
Global DRO will not return results for specific brands.
Common ingredients banned in sport
Some supplement ingredients that have come to our attention through failed tests, include:
|Prohibited substance||Other known names||WADA Prohibited List category|
Lotus – Nelumbo nucifera
S3: Beta 2 Agonist
Kigelia africiana (extract)
J. Regia (Extract) or Juglans Regia (Extract)
Safety of supplements
Not all supplements are safe. Many of the supplements coming to our attention contain different classes of prohibited substances with the most common being anabolic agents, peptide hormones and stimulants.
Health concerns surrounding supplements are real. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has banned some supplement ingredients (prohibited in sport) due to risks to human health.
Following are some warnings, deaths and major health issues have been reported around the world:
Watch how how a popular weight-loss supplement almost cost Matt Whitby his life.
Regulation of Supplements
In Australia, supplements may be regulated as a medicine or a food dependent on the characteristics of the specific product.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) have made changes to the regulation of certain sports supplements. Information on these changes is available on the TGA website.
While this is a positive step in helping to protect consumers through the greater regulation of products with higher risk ingredients, athletes must not become complacent. Even with these protections the anti-doping risk remains and athletes need to remain diligent about using batch-testing products.
Before taking supplements
Get advice from experts like an accredited doctor, nutritionist or dietitian about whether you need to take supplements. The experts will often look at your diet, lifestyle and training before considering the use of supplements.
In the following videos the Chief Medical Officer Dr David Hughes and former Head of Sports Nutrition, Professor Louise Bourke from the Australian Institute of Sport talk about whether supplements in sport are necessary, and how changing your diet is often a better, and safer option.
Food first initiative
We have developed a suite of resources to help promote the food first message, including posters, flyers and postcards that can be distributed at sporting clubs.
- No one ever tested positive to a banana
- No one ever tested positive to a drumstick
- No one ever tested positive to broccoli
- Food First poster
If you would like to order copies of these resources, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for high resolution files.
It is your personal choice to avoid or take supplements. From our perspective, it is safest to avoid supplement products. If you do choose to take supplements, here are some things to avoid:
- Supplements made in China, India or the USA.
- Pre-workout, weight-loss and muscle-building products, as they can be at higher risk of contamination with a prohibited substance.
- Bold claims from the manufacturer about the effectiveness of a product, such as:
- offering the same benefits as prohibited substances
- the treatment or prevention of disease, or
- being an alternative to prescription medicine.
- Claims of WADA or Sport Integrity Australia's endorsement or approval (anti-doping organisations do not test, endorse or approve supplement products).
- Ingredients that include chemical names or plant extracts.
- Supplements that are only available online.
- Supplement products labelled ‘not for human use’ or ‘for research use only’.
A number of resources are available to help you reach an informed decision:
Sport Integrity app
The Sport Integrity mobile app (available on the Google Play or Apple stores) lists every batch-tested supplement sold on Australian shelves, and gives athletes a way to assess the risk of other products.
The Sport Integrity app is a ‘one-stop-shop’ for everything about sport integrity and anti-doping, and you can access it all in the palm of your hand.
With the Sport Integrity app you can:
- Check medications (Global DRO) and find low risk ‘batch-tested’ supplements
- Report an integrity issue or suspicious activities
- Check whether you need an in-advance Therapeutic Use Exemption
- Give feedback, or ask a question about anti-doping
- Explore further information in the MENU such as details on the rules, testing, health effects of doping, supplement and nutrition advice, and much more.
Our online education is a free and easy-to-use resource featuring online courses, videos and learning updates about the key areas of anti-doping such as prohibited substances and methods, therapeutic use exemptions, the sample collection process, intelligence and investigations.
Login for courses including:
- Clean Sport Basics (15-minute introductory course)
- Anti-Doping 101
- Annual Update course
- Parents’ course
- Coaches’ courses
Therapeutic Goods Administration
Read the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s advice on Sports Supplements in Australia.
Australian Institute of Sport
The Australian Institute of Sport website has information on supplements.
Sports Dietitians Australia
The Sports Dietitians Australia website includes loads of ‘food first’ fuelling ideas for athletes from grassroots to elite, plus they have many fact sheets including specific foods for particular sporting needs.
Play by the Rules
The Play by the Rules website provides information, resources, tools and free online training to increase administrators, coaches, officials, players, parents and spectator’s knowledge of discrimination, harassment, child safety, inclusion and integrity issues in sport.
Your national sporting organisation’s policy or guidelines about supplements.