Some Players take supplements in the belief that it will help maintain their health and their performance or because they are under undue pressure to be bigger, faster or stronger.

However, it is now generally accepted that any Player who is liable to be tested in or out of competition, may be at risk of a positive drug test from the use of supplements that are contaminated.

Reliable studies of supplements have shown that up to 25% of dietary supplements on sale to Players may contain small amounts of prohibited substances, commonly including anabolic androgenic steroids and stimulants, with a few supplements containing large quantities of these substances. These quantities would cause, and have been found to cause, positive drug tests which have led to players and athletes being banned from sport.

As a result, the RFL cannot be sure that supplements, including vitamins and minerals, ergogenic aids, and herbal remedies, are free from prohibited substances and it is for this reason that the RFL strongly advise against the use of supplements by any Player.

What does supplements mean?

Nutritional supplements are designed to supplement the nutritional value of meals. However, they will not turn a bad diet into a good one. A good diet is key to a healthy lifestyle and good performance and fitness levels so players should have a balanced diet. An appropriate training programme and rest periods (both relaxation and sleep) are vital to player development.

Why are Supplements unsafe for Players?

The manufacture, distribution and promotion of dietary supplements are covered by a variety of regulations that relate mainly to their safety for the general human population, i.e. not professional players who are subject to stringent Anti-Doping regulations.

There are Pharmaceutical Industry Standards in place to protect the consumer against the risk of ingesting substances that are potentially harmful to their health. These standards are set to ensure that levels of contamination in medicines or supplements do not exceed 0.1% by mass. As the general human population are not subject to the anti-doping rules of sport and are not drug tested as Players are, these Pharmaceutical Industry Standards are satisfactory for the majority.

In the case of some doping substances, however, much smaller levels of contamination may cause a Player to test positive. This is because all WADA Accredited Laboratories are required to analyse your urine or blood sample to a standard that could detect a level of contamination of 0.00001%, or ten thousand times less than the pharmaceutical standard of 0.1%.

Where supplements are consumed in relatively large amounts, for example, protein powders where daily intakes by Players may reach 100g, contamination could result in a positive drug test and an anti-doping rule offence.

For this reason, manufacturers that advertise their products as being ‘IOC Permitted’ or ‘WADA approved’ are misleading Players as the IOC, WADA or UK Sport do not endorse the safety or legality of any supplements for Players.

When considering the use of supplements, players should analyse the need and analyse the risk.

Analyse the Need

Players should look to optimize diet, lifestyle and training before considering supplements. However, The RFL recognise that the lifestyle, training and game demands on some players may not allow sufficient time to be able to ingest sufficient food to meet energy needs and there may be possible circumstances that necessitate supplement use.

Players should assess the need for supplements by consulting an accredited sports dietician and/or registered nutritionist and a sports and exercise medicine doctor before taking supplements.

Analyse the risk

Due to the risk of contamination, minimising the risk is essential. Although the risk of supplements can be nullified by not taking any, avoiding the use of supplements for some players is not realistic. 

To minimise the risk of supplements containing even trace amounts of any Prohibited Substance the following may be checked during the manufacturing process: 

  • No Prohibited Substance can be introduced as a by-product of any part of the manufacturing process
  • The product (including the raw ingredients) is physically separate from potential sources of contamination at all stages of manufacture, processing, packaging and distribution.
  • Has the product been manufactured, packaged and distributed in such a way that will minimise the risk of a contaminated product reaching an athlete? 
  • Avoid purchasing supplements from a manufacturer who also produces supplements that contain Prohibited Substances 
  • Understand the reason why some supplements could contain Prohibited Substances as contaminants 
  • Understand what supplement testing for Prohibited Substances is
  • Seek expert guidance to assess your dietary and performance needs and supplement requirements (registered nutritionist or accredited sports dietician). 

Supplement Testing

Getting your supplements tested by a reliable laboratory does not provide a guarantee to the safety or legality of your supplements.  Supplement testing is one step towards assessing the risk of contamination to your product and it should be encouraged of manufacturers to test their product. However you must be aware that this is not a guaranteed method of identifying safe products. 

Some supplement manufacturers test their products and there are websites available, such as Informed Sport which can be a useful tool to minimise the risk of a supplement being contaminated. However, please note that sites of this nature do not give any guarantees regarding the status of a particular supplement and players are responsible for anything they decide to use.