Protecting the Right to Enjoy Doping-Free Sport

Supplements and the Risks


Risk of supplements

You should already be aware that the use of supplements can present a risk to athletes and may result in a positive test.

What are Supplements?

Although there is no clear definition, dietary supplements are products used alongside a normal diet to improve general health and wellbeing or enhance sporting performance.

They can include sports drinks or vitamin tablets, which claim to help with building muscle, increasing endurance, weight gain or loss, improving suppleness, rehydrating, aiding recovery or overcoming a mineral deficiency. Dietary supplements can be found in pill, tablet, capsule, powder or liquid form.

Why are They Such a High Risk?

Supplements can present a high risk for several reasons:

  • Some supplements contain banned substances
  • Some supplements can be contaminated during the manufacturing process
  • Some supplements will list ingredients on the label differently to how they would appear on the Prohibited List
  • Risk of counterfeit (fake) supplements, especially when purchased online

You will no doubt have seen athletes taking supplements or well-known athletes endorsing them in advertising campaigns. Our advice to you should you be considering using supplements is to assess the need, risks and consequences before using supplements. 

Assess the Need (AN)

UKAD’s advice is that diet, lifestyle and training should all be optimised before considering supplements. Athletes should assess the need for supplements by consulting a, registered nutritionist, or a sports and exercise medicine doctor, or even your GP before taking supplements.

Assess the Risk (AR)

If an athlete makes the decision to use supplements, they should assess the associated risks and make informed decisions about the products they opt to use. Supplements may claim to be drug-free or safe for drug-tested athletes but there are no guarantees that any supplements will be free from prohibited substances.

To minimise the risks you MUST undertake thorough internet research of any supplement products before use – including the name of the product and the ingredients/substances listed. Information revealed as a result should be further investigated and we advise athletes to keep evidence of their research. We also advise that you only use batch tested supplement products. 

Assess the Consequences (AC)

  • Remember strict liability. The sanction for intentional cheating is now 4 years for the first offence
  • There is less leniency for carelessness – you are more likely to receive a 2-year ban for inadvertent doping
  • To get any reduction in sanction from 2 years, you must have substantial proof you have done your research and be able to demonstrate that you were not at fault or intending to cheat

Is the risk worth the gain? If it does contain banned substances how will this affect your career? It can be very difficult to prove that the presence of banned substances from supplements were through no significant fault on your part as you already know there is a risk in taking them. 

Remember ANARAC (do your research) when thinking about using supplements.

Risk Minimisation Scheme

In the UK, there is a risk minimisation scheme called Informed-Sport. This is a supplement manufacturer testing and certification programme which aims to assure athletes that products carrying the Informed-Sport mark have been regularly tested for prohibited substances and manufactured to strict standards.

Limitations of the Informed-Sport programme

It is not possible to provide a 100 per cent guarantee that any supplement is totally free of contamination. Informed-Sport is only a risk minimisation programme. However, if an athlete has made a decision to use a supplement, it is better to be taking one that has been subjected to credible testing and appropriate manufacturing controls.