Before we directly jump into the topic, we should know what a dietary supplement is and how it is different from medicine?
In the United States, dietary supplements are substances other than your regular meal or snack. It is a product intended for ingestion that contains a “dietary ingredient” to add further nutritional value to the diet. A “dietary ingredient” may be one or a combination of the following substances: a vitamin, a mineral, an herb or a botanical, an amino acid, a concentrate, metabolite, constituent, or extract.
Whereas, medication or drugs are defined as substances intended to diagnose, treat or prevent disease.
Common supplements used by athletes are,
All these are supplements are present in food, but the bioavailability of a specific nutrient in natural food product is less when compared to the supplement. As supplements are already processed, their absorption in the intestine is quite high.
Supplements in the market come in these three forms: powder, tablets, and capsules. In protein, three forms are available, protein concentrate (60-80% protein), protein isolate (90-95% of protein), and protein hydrolysate (processed more for easy absorption). Protein powders are derived from different sources like whey, casein, brown rice, pea, beef, egg, hemp, or even mixed plant protein. Branched Chain Amino Acid supplement contains leucine, isoleucine, and valine in the ratio of 2:1:1 respectively. Other micronutrients like vitamins and minerals are commonly taken through multivitamin tablets. Caffeine is present in different types of coffee like latte, espresso, etc. They are present in energy drinks like a red bull as well.
Supplements assist an athlete to meet the nutritional requirement, enhance the performance, and could create a placebo effect that gives a psychological boost to the athlete. However, it may be noted that supplements are generally expensive and could have side effects if not taken wisely. Moreover, there is a possibility of positive results in a dope test.
Doping is one thing that an athlete must keep in mind while taking supplements. Doping is defined as the use of performance-increasing substances, which would place the athlete in a superior position than that he/she would normally have obtained. There are different categories of prohibited substances, like glucocorticoids, cannabinoids, narcotics, stimulants, gene, and cell doping, manipulation of blood and blood components, diuretics, beta-blockers, etc. For example, beta-blockers are drugs that are used to treat heart diseases and blood pressure. But it is banned in certain sports like archery as they slow down the heart rate and help in increasing their performance.
It is to be noted that no supplement is 100% free of doping substances. Hence, it is always better to get the nutrients required through food sources. Still, if you are advised to take supplements, then keep the following things in your mind.
1) If you want to take some kind of supplement, make sure that it has undergone third-party testing for doping. Informed Choice, Hasta, NSF, and BSCG are some websites, where you can check such details regarding your supplements.
2) Make sure that you consult a certified nutritionist before taking any kind of supplement to avoid ill effects caused by toxicity.
3) Cross-contamination can also lead to athletes testing positive for doping. Even a small act of sharing a blender with someone who drinks a protein shake containing prohibited substances may cause problems while testing.
4) Sometimes, the supplements may not have accurate labeling. It could have confusing names or could completely leave out an ingredient from the list that may cause positive results in dope testing. Hence, ensure that you get your supplements from a trusted company.
Athletes are solely held responsible for the things going into their bodies. That is why it is very important to be fully informed before taking any supplement.