Nutrition Business Journal

Programs Work to Boost Supplement Credibility in Eyes of Elite Athletes

The stakes are high for athletes who fail doping tests—and when tests do come back positive, the finger of blame is often pointed at dietary supplements. 


For example, after American swimmer Jessica Hardy tested positive for the stimulant clenbuterol during the U.S. Olympic trials, the athlete argued that the banned substance came from the supplements she was taking. Greek hurdler Fani Halkia, too, blamed contaminated supplements for her positive drug test and subsequent dismissal from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. “I’m shocked—I have undergone more testing than anyone else,” Halkia told Greek reporters, after news of her failed drug test hit the press earlier this month. “The first thing I thought of doing was to give all the nutritional supplements I have consumed, my vitamins, for testing.”

In all, more than 45 athletes were either banned from participating in the 2008 Olympic Games or have been disqualified for failed drug tests. In addition, this year’s Olympic athletes were subjected to far more tests than in previous Games. According to the Associated Press, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) conducted between 4,500 and 5,000 doping tests in Beijing, up from 3,600 in Athens four years ago.

To help boost supplement industry credibility in the sports world and convince athletes that supplements are safe and do not contain banned substances, several organizations have created third-party testing and certification programs for sports supplements. In the United States, NSF International offers the Athletic Banned Substances Certification Program (also known as Certified for Sport program). The program, which focuses primarily on sports supplement manufacturing and supply sourcing, was designed to protect against product adulteration, to verify label claims and to screen for banned substances—such as stimulants, steroids or beta blockers—in a finished product or ingredient. Since the program’s creation in 2004, NSF has formed testing partnerships with Major League Baseball, the Major League Players Association, the National Football League, the NFL Players Association, the Professional Golfers Association and the Women’s Professional Golfers Association. NSF also works with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and other entities.

Other organizations offering supplement screening include the Banned Substances Control Group in Los Angeles and HFL Sport Science, a U.K.-based laboratory that is recognized by the World Anti-Doping Agency and which carries out testing on behalf of Lake Wylie, South Carolina-based Informed Choice.

Nutrition Business Journal takes a look at these third-party testing and certification programs and explores the thorny issue of sport supplement contamination in our upcoming Sports Nutrition & Weight Loss issue, which publishes in September. To order your copy of the issue or to subscribe to NBJ, go to

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