Active Voice: Helping Athletes Identify Sport Nutritional Products Free of Athletic Banned Substances and Steroids
By Greta Houlahan

Viewpoints presented in SMB commentaries reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

Greta Houlahan serves as senior communications manager for NSF International, a global public health and safety organization founded in 1944 and headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This commentary appeared in a recent issue of the Professionals Against Doping in Sports (PADS) e-newsletter. To sign up for this quarterly e-newsletter, visit

Did you know that there is an organization that tests and certifies nutritional supplements and sport nutrition products to make sure that they don’t contain athletic banned substances or steroids? NSF International, an independent public health organization, certifies a wide range of dietary supplements and nutritional products to verify that they are free of athletic banned substances and unsafe levels of contaminants.

NSF International developed the NSF American National Standard for Dietary Supplements (NSF/ANSI Standard 173). As required by the standard, the NSF certification process includes:
  • a toxicology and label review to verify product formulation.
  • a formulation review to identify and quantify dietary ingredients declared on product label.
  • a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) inspection.
  • a contaminant review, which involves testing to ensure there are no ingredients present that have not been declared on the label nor are there unsafe levels of contaminants.
NSF International developed the standard with participation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), other federal agencies, state regulatory agencies, manufacturers, product retailers, industry trade associations and consumer groups.

Building on the NSF American National Standard, the NSF Certified for Sport® program additionally screens for prohibited substances on the following sport organization’s lists: World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), NSF Annex A, National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). NSF utilizes product testing as well as facilities inspection to ensure that an athlete’s supplements and sports nutrition products are free of prohibited/banned substances. Classes of compounds screened during testing and inspection are stimulants, narcotics, steroids, diuretics, beta-2-agonists, beta blockers and masking agents, as well as other substances on the various lists. This process helps ensure that an athlete’s supplements and sports nutrition products are free of prohibited/banned substances.

NSF tests and certifies nutritional supplements used by athletes in the MLB, NFL, Professional Golf Association (PGA), Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES). Using ISO 17025 accredited methods, NSF screens for the presence of substances prohibited by these organizations. The latest technologies in mass spectrometry coupled with gas chromatography and liquid chromatography are utilized. These instruments are employed in forensic and anti-doping laboratories throughout the world.

In addition to working with sports organizations, NSF International also works closely with anti-steroid foundations to help protect young athletes from the dangers of performance enhancing drugs.

NSF International has developed educational resources to educate students at seminars and high school presentations and highlight the importance of looking for sport nutrition products that have been tested and certified to be free of these substances. These resources include, a website NSF launched in 2010 to provide educational information and news on sports nutrition to athletes. The website includes a searchable database of NSF-certified sports nutrition products that have been screened for athletic banned substances and how to find them.

Products that have been certified by NSF International’s Certified for Sport program also bear a distinguishing mark.

Having access to these resources is essential as news stories on steroid use in sports continue to highlight the need to test dietary supplements and sports nutrition products for prohibited substances.

In a 2010 letter to manufacturers of dietary supplements, the FDA asserted that the problem of “spiked” supplements has grown significantly in recent years and now constitutes “a significant public health problem.”

Market sampling and independent testing of “suspect” products by NSF International confirms the FDA’s findings that illegal supplements spiked with steroids, erectile dysfunction drugs and stimulants are, unfortunately, readily available from both retail stores and internet merchants. That is one of the reasons that major league sports organizations only allow NSF Certified for Sport supplements and nutritional products into their locker rooms. The best ways for allied health professionals to utilize NSF International’s resources is in clinical settings as well as when educating athletes about the importance of looking for sport nutrition products that have been tested and certified to be free of prohibited substances.