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Use of Supplements by Student Athletes

Student athletes are understandably concerned about performing at their best. If you’re thinking of taking nutritional supplements, it’s a smart idea to do your homework before starting or combining any new supplements.

Does it really matter which supplement you buy?

Absolutely. Individuals who participate in organized sports at any level usually have special concerns regarding the potential for the 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.

While reading labels is important, it doesn’t always provide a complete picture of a product’s contents. It’s important to do your research before you buy any supplements. Here are a few tips to help:

Learn the risks. Some supplements may contain banned substances that can potentially disqualify students from competitions. Supplements can also contain unhealthy ingredients.

  • Student athletes especially should avoid supplements that could affect their hormones. In general, they should not take products that increase testosterone or growth hormone levels, which are already high in most teens.
  • Teens should also watch out for products containing caffeine, ephedra or synephrine, as these stimulants can lead to restlessness, anxiety, racing heart or an irregular heartbeat. Mixing supplements or taking them at a higher than recommended dose can also adversely affect health.
  • Athletes of all ages need to avoid using products containing adulterants or unapproved synthetic stimulants like N,a-DEPEA, DMAA or DMBA, which may appear on product labels under ingredient names like geranium extract or 4-amino-2-methylpentane citrate.

Choose certified products. Even reading a label thoroughly may not provide all the information you need. As most dietary supplements are not tested before they are sold to consumers, look for products tested under NSF International’s Certified for Sport® program.

  • Products tested under this program are confirmed not to contain substances banned by many major athletic organizations, including Major League Baseball (MLB), National Football League (NFL), and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (CCES).
  • This certification also helps confirm that products contain the ingredients and quantities shown on the label without containing unacceptable levels of impurities.

Talk to your health care provider. Before taking any supplement, discuss it with your health care provider. Student athletes need to know how a substance works and if there might be any interaction with any of the supplements they are taking

With the history of adulteration and contamination that has been reported, student athletes need to consider what’s at stake when choosing a dietary supplement. Ultimately, the only person who is responsible for taking a product is the person who ingests it.

For a current list of NSF International Certified for Sport® supplements and to learn more about the testing of supplements, visit and download NSF’s Certified for Sport® app. Check out new information on the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Supplement 411 initiative or contact the NSF Consumer Affairs Office,