Athletics Australia (AA) – the body that represents elite athletes – is set to warn Australia’s best sports people that food supplements cannot be trusted to be contamination-free and deliver scant benefits.
AA’s integrity and ethics unit has drafted a policy document calling on athletes to forego food supplement use except when an athlete has a doctor’s prescription for a nutrient deficiency like iron or vitamin D. It warned younger athletes off them completely.
''Without wanting to pre-empt the delivery of that draft policy, it is based on the three principles of athlete health and safety, evidence-based science, and compliance with the WADA code,” an AA spokesman said in local press reports.
''The strong recommendation to athletes is that supplement use be discontinued except in a very limited number of cases. The draft policy includes a ban on virtually all supplement use by under-age athletes. It takes a hardline approach for young athletes based on the belief that situations in which individuals under the age of 18 would be required to use dietary nutritional supplements for sporting purposes are rare.
''Athletes under the age of 18 would be discouraged from using any performance-enhancing supplements, even group A supplements, such as caffeine, creatine and bicarbonate.
''The policy also recommends that the use of supplements should only take place on the advice of an accredited sport medicine professional. A stronger stance on supplementation is important as there are now widespread concerns about the availability of supplies that can be guaranteed as being uncontaminated.''
Globally, policies vary greatly among athletic organisations with many advising extreme caution for food supplements as with all bodily inputs because of the strict doping procedures that many athletes face.
Some advise athletes that some food supplements can be used as long as they have passed through a testing programme that verifies quality control procedures.
UK Athletics adheres to such a policy, advising athletes that if they are going to take supplements, those that have passed through a HFL Sports Science Informed-Sport testing scheme are the safest, if not 100% safe.
Of that position, UK Athletics spokesperson Alex Ferguson told us: "The use of dietary supplements by athletes is a concern because in many countries the manufacturing and labelling of supplements may not follow strict rules, which may lead to a supplement containing an undeclared substance that is prohibited under anti-doping regulations."
"A significant number of positive tests have been attributed to the misuse of supplements and taking a poorly labelled dietary supplement is not an adequate defence in a doping hearing."
UK Anti-Doping advice on the matter states, “Informed-Sport is only a risk minimisation programme. However, if an athlete has made a decision to use a supplement, it is better to be taking one that has been subjected to credible testing and appropriate manufacturing controls.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) advises athletes to proceed with caution when using food supplements due to the potential for contamination. But it doesn't advise against them.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2011 reversed its former position and said some food supplements could be beneficial to athletes.