Guidance on Supplements
Nutritional or dietary supplements may help compliment your diet in some circumstances, but be careful as supplement use is one of the most common reasons for ADRVs in rugby. The supplement industry is not regulated like medicines are. Anyone can start a supplement company, and they can put anything in their products including prohibited substances. Sometimes all the ingredients are not listed on the label, so even if you check carefully you can never be 100% sure.
The only way to be completely safe is not to take any supplements, but if you do think you need one, always start with a full nutritional and lifestyle needs consultation with a specialist who is independent of any supplement companies (someone who won’t suggest a supplement just because they can sell it to you). If they do advise you to take a supplement, this should be for a specific duration and you should be regularly monitored to ensure it is giving you the correct nutritional benefit. It’s also your responsibility to make sure any supplement is safe, even if it’s given to you by an expert.
Independent scientific evidence shows that many supplements don’t work. The ones that do are only effective if used when directed by a nutrition specialist to address a particular need. If you don’t get professional advice first, you’re just guessing and probably not getting the gains that you think you are.
Risk of contamination
The biggest risk with supplements is that they can become contaminated with prohibited substances during manufacture. This can be done intentionally or accidentally. A product could also contain prohibited ingredients that are not listed on the label, or ingredients listed under an alternate name to the one stated on the Prohibited List. Products that promote weight loss and weight/mass gain, stimulants, and pre-workouts are particularly risky, and be aware that products marketed under the same brand in different countries may contain different ingredients.
Always research the product and the manufacturer carefully. Good supplement manufacturers send their products to be tested by independent batch testing sites like Informed Sport. These sites will tell you which batch of a product has been tested. This reduces the risk of using the specific batch, but it doesn’t eliminate risk completely. No one can give you a 100% guarantee that a supplement is safe. Beware of companies who claim that their product is ‘natural’, ‘100% safe’ or approved by someone like WADA. This will never be true. Endorsement by a sports organisation or team makes no difference to how safe the product is either. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Checklist: Minimise risk
- Don’t use a supplement unless you have a clear dietary need, identified by an expert.
- Read the label of the supplement very carefully and check each ingredient to ensure that it is not a substance (or a type of substance) on the Prohibited List. Remember that not all substances contained in the product might be listed.
- Avoid purchasing supplements over the internet. If you do, check that the supplier has a physical contact address, and that they have not previously been implicated in a doping case. If the site seems to be promoting bodybuilding, ‘shredding’ or ‘rapid gains’, it’s probably risky.
- Don’t share supplements with other Players, and don’t use any product given to you by team mates, friends, other athletes, or a friend at the gym. They are not experts, and they may not be subject to the same anti-doping rules as you are.
- Only use supplements where you know the specific batch you are taking has been tested by an independent batch testing site. Beware supplement manufacturers who have the batch testers’ logo on their site, but may not test all their products.
Remember these steps only reduce risk, and do not eliminate it completely. It’s your responsibility, no one else’s. If you’re not sure the supplement is safe, don’t take it.
You are solely responsible for any Prohibited Substance found in your body (no matter where it came from, or who may have advised you to take it). This rule is known as ‘strict liability’. Even if you took the substance accidentally (such as via a medication or contaminated supplement), or if you were given it by your doctor, coach or team-mate, you would still be committing an offence and you would face a long suspension from rugby. Take care with any substance you consume.