Updated 18 September 2015

Recommendations on supplements

There is no way for rugby players to know with 100% assurance what is in a supplement and the last thing a rugby player wants is to test positive for a banned substance.


There is no way for rugby players to know with 100% assurance what is in a supplement. Some manufacturers do have better quality controls and may to some extent be committed to having their products tested for banned substances. Here are the SA Rugby guidelines for supplements.

However, in many instances loopholes exist in the system (e. g. when only one specific flavour in a range has been tested, yet in the advertising this is not made clear; or the laboratory testing the products is not ISO 17025 accredited). Players still however need to question if using the supplement is necessary, and/or does the supplement have performance-enhancing benefits.

A best-practise and systematic, risk reduction approach to the use of supplements is therefore recommended (Figure 1). Players need to get the basics right first(i.e periodised diet and training regime) as this is where the biggest potential for performance enhancement lies.

After professional consultation, players can only then consider supplements and only if the appropriate medical professional has identified:

  • That there are gaps in the diet that cannot be resolved with food and drink
  • That there is a clinical or medical reason.

These decisions always need to be made in consultation with a registered dietician with sports nutrition experience, or with a sports physician.

'Safe supplements'

Only supplements that fulfil all four of the following criteria should be considered.

1. Only if they are prescribed on a case-by-case basis by a registered dietician with sports nutrition experience or a sports physician only once it has been determined that the habitual diet is unable to meet these additional nutrient requirements.

2. They do not adversely affect health

3. They are effective in offering practical and/or physiological benefits, e.g sports bars and gels are portable for travelling; caffeine may offer some players a small but significant advantage; and

4. They are legal and have met the company standards requirements (as many as one in four supplements may result in a positive test because of contamination with steroids, stimulants and other illegal drugs). Quality assurance required for supplements is far more complex than a simple GMP statement from the manufacturer.

It should at this point again be reiterated that this process will only limit or reduce, and will never completely remove, the risk of ingesting a contaminated supplement which has the potential to cause a positive drug test.

SARU doesn't support supplement use at all

By advising on this stepwise risk reduction process SARU does not endorse or support the use of supplements in any way.

Supplements are generally not recommended for younger players (< 18 years) as there is a greater potential for performance enhancement through maturation and experience, and supplements may be a gateway to substance abuse. Supplements should only be considered if medically indicated and monitored. 

Source: SARU Supplement Guidelines 2011 by Shelly Meltzer, Cecily Fuller and Clint Readhead; Sports Science Institute, Boundary Road, Newlands. Read more at SA Rugby.

(Health24, August 2011)




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