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Supplements: The Risks


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For an athlete wanting to adhere to the rules of clean sport and anti-doping, taking supplements will always present a risk due to the chance the supplement has been contaminated with a banned substance. This includes vitamins, minerals, and herbal remedies as the supplement industry that provides these products is, it seems, difficult to regulate.

Here are some key points for parents to consider:


  • Supplements can have hidden banned substances due to contamination during manufacturing, which can lead to positive doping tests. As dietary supplements are often produced in factories that also manufacture products containing banned substances, cross-contamination is a genuine risk.

Lack of Regulation:

  • Supplements are not as strictly regulated as medicines, so it's hard to guarantee their safety or the absence of banned substances.


  • Some supplements may contain undisclosed ingredients, including banned substances, which can result in unintentional doping violations.

Several high-profile cases in the media have involved athletes who have taken supplements believing them to be safe and legal, only to fail a drug test due to contamination, during manufacture or otherwise, with traces of banned substances. It is incredibly difficult to prove innocence in these cases, and even if successful, the media will have already created a link between that athlete's name and doping that is hard to move beyond. These cases highlight the career-impacting damage that can result.

To think that these cases are few and inconsequential would be a mistake. A recent Australian report found that anti-doping rule violations due to supplements accounted for a third of positive doping tests in Australia between 2016 and 2019. Read the report click here (4min read).

Another less obvious but significant doping risk of supplement use is a psychological one. There is now growing evidence that shows that those who take supplements are more likely to dope. In fact, a recent research study found athletes who took dietary supplements were 2.5 times more likely to dope, click here to view paper.

Batch Testing

If, despite your efforts, they remain determined to use supplements, and let’s face it, the peer pressure and influence from social media are absolutely HUGE, insist they choose reputable brands that have undergone rigorous testing, i.e. have the INFORMED SPORTS logo.

informed sport logo

Brands with this logo have been batch-tested for banned substances to minimise the risks... but this still does not absolutely guarantee the absence of banned substances. There is still a risk, it's just smaller... British Swimming provides a very good page on their website explaining this in more depth; click here.

How You Can Help 

By becoming better-informed about the risks of supplement use, you can help your athlete learn to appreciate the risks themselves through the understanding that supplements can 'accidentally' contain banned substances due to contamination or mislabeling. Additionally, with a focus on whole foods and a balanced diet to obtain essential nutrients, you can also help them make informed choices, allowing them to prioritise their own clean sports values. Professional guidance should always be sought for nutritional advice and alternatives to dietary supplements.

Importantly, it should also be pointed out that taking supplements excessively or in combination with other substances can also harm health, causing digestive problems or hormonal imbalances.

More information can be found on the UKAD website.

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Take Home Points

  • Have conversations with your athletes to ensure they fully understand that athletes are 100% accountable for doping… the buck stops with them.

  • The 100% Me programme has been specifically designed to help athletes navigate the ‘clean sport’ world. Click here for more information.

  • Ensure they fully understand that ‘accidentally’ doping (e.g., contaminated supplements) is very hard to prove… not using supplements removes this risk entirely.

  • Ensure they understand that all their dietary requirements for great performances can come from good, athlete-centred, healthy eating.

  • Remember the shocking statistic mentioned above… anti-doping rule violations due to supplements accounted for a third of positive doping tests in Australia between 2016 and 2019….

If you've found this information helpful, we've created The Athlete Place, our athlete-specific platform that will inform, motivate and inspire your athlete...

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Evidence-Based Research

Our content is supported by:

  • Hurst, P., Schiphof-Godart, L., Kavussanu, M., Barkoukis, V., Petróczi, A. and Ring, C., 2023. Are dietary supplement users more likely to dope than non-users?: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Drug Policy, 117, p.104077. (View Paper)

Last updated 10 Apr 2024.


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