SUPPLEMENTS: WHAT ARE THE RISKS FOR ELITE LEVEL ATHLETES?
Supplementation plays a very specific role in an athlete's nutritional plan. All athletes utilise supplementation to improve performance and recovery during competition and training and as a convenient addition to a healthy diet, or to make up calorific shortfalls. The nutritional needs of any individual can theoretically be obtained by consuming natural foods. However, the reality is that the nutritional requirements of elite athletes are significantly greater than their sedentary or recreationally active counterparts. As such, it is difficult for the elite athlete to ingest their full nutritional requirements using normal foods due to:
The length of time required to prepare meals.
Sub-optimal rates of digestion and absorption of whole food in comparison to supplements during competition.
Difficulty timing meals to co-incide with the optimal post training window.
Difficulty obtaining nutrients without increasing fat or caloric intake excessively.
Supplements therefore offer a more convenient and often a more effective solution than whole foods at specific feeding times. Supplement used strategically by athletes at all levels of competition are therefore likely to increase as our lives become more congested and the higher demand of sporting performance continues to increase.
Elite and professional level athletes mostly participate in sports that are regulated by The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which promotes, coordinates and monitors the fight against doping in sport in all its forms. Most sporting codes adhere to the WADA code of conduct with regards to banned and prohibited substances, a fundamental and universal document upon which the World Anti-Doping Program in sport is based. The WADA code places strict liability on the athlete. It is therefore the athlete’s onus to ensure that they do not ingest any substances which are prohibited by WADA.
Supplements can present a risk with respect to WADA regulated athletes in 2 ways:
1. As the list of prohibited substances changes on a yearly basis, some supplements may contain ingredients which were previously allowed but are now prohibited. In addition, some less scrupulous manufacturers may inadequately or incorrectly label product ingredients, making it difficult for the athlete to identify safe products, even if they are aware of the WADA list.
2. Contamination of a product:
a. By the use of ingredients which contain trace amounts of WADA prohibited substances
b. In the manufacturing process where traces of other products (which contain WADA prohibited substances) are manufactured in the same facility and find their way into another product.
It is important to note that the supplement industry is not regulated in South Africa, although huge strides have been made in establishing a local HFL contact office to improve the service level to manufacturers like USN, so that supplementation can be validated as being free of contaminants or WADA prohibited substances with those brands making use of the service. It is therefore up to the manufacturer to take an ethical stance and ensure that their products are safe to use. However, the final responsibility lies with the athlete who needs to evaluate their individual requirements and to ensure that they purchase a reputable product.
What is USN doing to help prevent contamination and WADA related issues?
USN utilises the expertise of top Sports Physicians, Exercise Physiologists, Nutritionists and Laboratory Scientists to evaluate their product range at regular intervals to ensure that the ingredients conform to the latest scientific research with respect to efficacy and safety and in conjunction with the latest WADA regulations. As such, the products manufactured are both cutting edge and safe.
USN raw ingredients are sourced from globally reputable suppliers and a certificate of analysis is issued for every batch procured.
Final products are not manufactured by USN, but by third-party, independent pharmaceutical laboratories who are MCC and GMP guided and registered. USN's Research & Development team also conducts internal audits at the manufacturing sites to ensure a highly professional and clean environment.
USN conducts a high number of third-party SANAS accredited lab tests on final products to ensure labelling versus nutrient content is 100% correct.
USN uses a 3rd party to do all warehousing and logistics. USN's operational partner specialises in the logistics of the pharmaceutical environment and products are kept at the correct temperature, handling is limited to the bare minimum and transport is via safe and secure vehicles.
An auditable chain-of-custody is kept from the point of manufacture to the end customer.
As a final safety net, USN products are sent to HFL Sports Science
in the UK to undergo final screening against a number of prohibited substances on the WADA list (against at least 146 banned substances on the list). HFL Sport Science is an internationally recognised and accredited laboratory providing high quality testing for athlete healthcare and nutritional supplements. Their aim is to give athletes, coaches, and national federation's confidence in supplement manufacturers and suppliers, and to provide analytical services relating to biomarkers of fitness and nutritional health. HFL's Informed Sport Programme is recommended as a process for teams and athletes by certain International Sporting Federations and UKAD
(United Kingdom Anti-Doping) and uses internationally recognised standards in their testing processes. USN presently tests all batches of product that are provided to sponsored athletes at the HFL Sport Science laboratory. USN was the first South African supplement manufacturer to tests their products for WADA prohibited substances. Although this is currently restricted to products manufactured for sponsored athletes, the feedback from HFL Sports Science provides valuable re-assurance that other USN products found on the retailer's shelf are safe.
What can you do as an elite athlete?
1. Assess your needs:
Do you really need a supplement as part of your training regime - be it for energy, hydration, recovery, weight loss or convenience purposes? When you conclude that you do need a supplement or would like to assess the effect of a particular product, make sure that you select the correct product to achieve your goal.
2. Assess the Risk:
Once you have decided which product will suit your needs best and that you can gain an advantage from it you will need to understand the risk involved. As a professional or elite athlete, WADA places the onus on you to check that the ingredients contained in a product comply with their regulations. Ensure that you purchase products from a company that has a credible history in the marketplace and that takes steps to protect you, the athlete.
USN advises all professional athletes to use only products tested through the HFL Sports Science screening program if they compete at a level where drug-testing will occur. This supplement screening is batch specific and it is very important that only stock from the tested batches is used by such athletes.
Please contact USN directly for more information on the quality process and to enquire on products tested via HFL Sports Science in the UK. Always also check all labelling of products!