Supplements: a risk for all athletes
Supplements are a risk for all athletes.
Supplement products include (but aren’t limited to) pre-workouts, fat burners, branch chain amino acids (BCAAs), energy or rehydration drinks, vitamins and protein bars or powders. Pharmacy products (e.g. pain relief), herbal remedies (e.g. natural immune support) and some cosmetic/personal care products (e.g. eyelash serum) also carry a level of risk.
We don’t approve any supplements, or their use, because of this risk.
Supplements can contain substances that are banned in sport.
They’re produced in factories, not medical laboratories, which increases the risk of cross-contamination. Inaccurate labelling (deliberate or accidental) also makes it difficult to know what’s really in supplement products. Even words like ‘natural’ and ‘herbal’ don’t necessarily mean a product is safe. Some natural substances are banned in sport, and contamination remains a risk.
Supplement contamination is a risk, even here in New Zealand. In 2022, Consumer NZ found illegal drugs in six separate supplement products.
Athletes can and do test positive after taking contaminated supplements. When this happens, the consequences can be life changing. You are responsible for anything found in your sample during testing - even if you took the substance unknowingly.
Read about athletes whose careers have been affected by contaminated supplements:
Make an informed decision
The safest option is a food-first approach to nutrition. But we know that many athletes nonetheless choose to use supplements or are on a supplement programme. If that’s you, it’s important to make an informed decision. Our Supplement Decision-Making Guide can help by showing you ways you can minimise – but not eliminate – supplement risks.
Manage your risk: Things to know
- The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) doesn’t approve any supplements. Claims that a supplement is “approved by WADA” are misleading.
- Know that supplement safety and effectiveness is rarely proven in those under 18, those with medical conditions, or those who use other substances.
- If using a supplement, be aware that using incorrect dosages (i.e. more than advised on the label) can be dangerous for your health.
- If tested, list all substances you’ve used – including all supplements – on your paperwork.
- By using a supplement product, you accept the risk that you may test positive for a prohibited substance.
No, we're sorry but we can’t.
All supplements are a risk for clean athletes as they may contain banned substances. We – and you – can’t be sure which do and which don’t. As a result, we don’t approve any supplements or their use.
The only way to be sure your supplement is safe would be to perform lab tests on the specific container of supplement you intend to take. This is called batch testing and can be impractical.
Our Supplement Decision-Making Guide helps you consider ways you can minimise – but not eliminate – supplement risks. It also offers information on your nutritional needs and how supplements impact your health.
The safest option is a food-first approach to nutrition.
We know it's frustrating, but the nature of the manufacturing process for supplements means we can’t be sure that they're free from banned substances.
No. If a batch has been tested, then you can have increased confidence in that batch of supplement but, even then, you can’t be 100% sure that there are no banned substances.
If you take the same supplement, but from a different batch than the one that was batch-tested, you have no assurance.
High-Performance Sport NZ offers some advice on batch-testing.
We don’t have any affiliations with batch testing companies, however High-Performance Sport New Zealand offers advice around batch testing. This advice includes links to batch testing companies where you can check the batch numbers yourself.
Batch testing does not mean you can be 100% sure that a product has no banned substances, but it does mean you can have increased confidence in a specific batch.
No. Some supplements might claim to be approved by the World Anti-Doping Organisation (WADA) or another anti-doping organisation, but this is not true. WADA does not test supplements and does not approve supplements.
No. There are many examples of inaccurate labelling in which a supplement that contained a banned substance didn't have the substance listed in the ingredients.
No. Sponsorship doesn’t guarantee there aren’t banned substances in the supplement. As an athlete you remain responsible for anything in your body. This means that you take on the risk, not the sponsor or the athlete/team.
See our Supplement Decision-Making Guide to understand the risks better.
No matter where you buy them, using any supplement is a risk for clean athletes. We can’t be sure they don’t contain banned substances.
Yes. As an athlete, you’re responsible for everything found in your sample. By taking a supplement, you accept the risk that you may test positive for a banned substance.
Our Supplement Decision-Making Guide helps you consider your nutritional needs, how supplements impact your health, and ways you can minimise – but not eliminate – supplement risks.
This is a complex topic and we're unable to provide better advice. The fact is that all supplements are a risk to clean athletes. We don’t approve any supplements or their use because we can’t be 100% sure that any supplement is free of banned substances. We don’t want you to face a ban due to a contaminated supplement.
Nonetheless, we do recognise that many athletes use supplements despite these risks. We strongly encourage athletes to make an informed decision, and using our Supplement Decision-Making Guide can help you minimise – but not eliminate – supplement risks.
As an athlete, remember that you’re responsible for everything found in your sample. By taking a supplement, you accept the risk that you may test positive for a banned substance.