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NSF: Leveling the Playing Field for Sports Nutrition for Pro Athletes

Sports Nutrition Sports Nutrition

NSF is known for its exceptional quality control programs and certifications. Professional sports leagues and team owners understand that their players want to take sports nutrition products to enhance their performance, strength, endurance and recovery. But due to the presence of dangerous, banned and/or spiked supplements offered by dubious companies, pro leagues wanted to ensure their athletes could supplement safely and effectively.

Brian Jordan, technical manager, NSF Certified for Sport, NSF International, Michigan, former strength and conditioning coach for MLB Colorado Rockies, and an athlete, discusses how NSF certifies for sports nutrition, and why it remains critical for professional sports to ensure supplements taken by athletes contribute to a healthy competitive edge.

NIE: Please discuss what is important, quality-wise, when it comes to use of sports nutrition products by professional athletes and their leagues.

Jordan: Like any consumer, athletes are concerned about contaminants and ingredients that could be potentially harmful. But elite athletes are also worried about taking products or supplements that might contain an athletic banned substance and might cause them to test positive for doping. That’s why many professional athletes and leagues choose products certified as NSF Certified for Sport.

In addition to testing and auditing for quality and safety, products certified to the rigorous NSF Certified for Sport standard are tested on a lot-by-lot basis for over 270 athletic banned substances included on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), NSF Annex B, NFL and MLB prohibited substance lists. This list is monitored and updated as new substances are discovered or banned. I can’t put enough emphasis on how important this is. Would you rather take a product that has not been independently tested or one that has been independently tested for over 270 banned substances plus heavy metals, pesticides and contaminants?

The NSF Certified for Sport program is required by the NHL, CFL and Major League Baseball (MLB) and recommended by the NFL, PGA, LPGA, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), CPSDA and the Taylor Hooton Foundation.

In fact, Jon Coyles of Major League Baseball has stated: “For over a decade, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have jointly recognized and relied on the NSF Certified for Sport program to provide our players with certified safe options for dietary supplements. In a sport where our athletes are subject to stringent drug testing protocols and penalties, it is crucial that our athletes are aware of the risks of the dietary supplement industry and educated on how to make informed decisions about the products they choose to consume. Through the support of NSF’s dedicated expert personnel, MLB and MLBPA have developed a system where MLB players and Club personnel know that NSF Certified for Sport products are the only products they should use to avoid the risk of a positive test result. MLB and MLBPA recognize NSF as the gold standard in supplement certification, and continue to be impressed by NSF’s constant growth and improvements of their program.”

NIE: Please discuss how NSF certifies products—what do you look for, and what is unacceptable?

Jordan: Certification of sports nutrition and supplement products starts with the manufacturing process; it goes beyond simply testing finished products. For example, you need to be sure the manufacturer is using the appropriate good manufacturing practices or GMPs. NSF International’s dietary supplement program addresses this by requiring NSF GMP registration as the first of several steps required to become NSF Certified for Sport.

1. It all starts with GMPs and NSF International’s GMP Facility Registration. Dietary supplement manufacturing facilities must pass an initial GMP audit and one every six months in order to earn NSF’s GMP registration. This registration verifies continued compliance with GMPs as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). To become NSF GMP registered, the facility needs to address all corrective actions.

It’s worth noting that NSF International is the global leader in dietary supplement GMP facility registration with nearly 600 facilities registered. Many retailers and manufacturers choose to work with NSF GMP registered facilities because ours is the most rigorous GMP program available.

2. The next step is NSF International’s Dietary Supplement Product Certification. In addition to passing NSF GMP audits twice a year, the product is tested at NSF International laboratories to verify compliance with the only American National Standard for dietary supplements (NSF/ANSI 173). This rigorous testing includes:

o A label claim review to verify that what’s on the label is what’s actually in the package
o A toxicology review to verify product formulation and label claims
o A contaminant review to verify there are no harmful levels of specific contaminants in the product.
o And ongoing auditing and testing to verify continued compliance.

3. Finally, NSF Certified for Sport certification is the highest level of certification a sports nutrition or supplement product can earn. In addition to the testing and auditing for quality and safety, products are tested on a lot-by-lot basis for over 270 athletic banned substances on four lists; WADA, NSF Annex B, NFL and MLB prohibited substance lists. The NSF Certified for Sport program is required by the NHL, CFL and Major League Baseball and recommended by the NFL, PGA, LPGA, CCES, CPSDA and the Taylor Hooton Foundation.

NIE: How well do you feel that brand marketers are complying with regulations and quality control? What needs to be improved?

Jordan: Most brands and supplement manufacturers are committed to ensuring quality and safety. Like any industry, there are some companies that break or bend the rules, but most brands are genuinely trying to comply with the regulations and best practices.

First and foremost, manufacturers should commit to the current GMPs for dietary supplements. They also must do their due diligence when sourcing raw ingredients and conduct independent testing of ingredients and finished products.

Since quality starts with GMPs, brand marketers and supplement companies need to make sure their manufacturing facilities are independently audited and verified to be in compliance with the U.S. FDA’s GMP requirements. This is where a third-party partner like NSF International can be helpful.

The easiest way to find facilities that comply with the current GMPs is to work with manufacturing facilities that are listed on NSF’s GMP Facility Registration at http://info.nsf.org/Certified/GMP/. NSF International is the global leader in dietary supplement GMP facility registration with nearly 600 facilities registered around the world.