During a June meeting of the Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus on Capitol Hill, two sports professionals highlighted the importance of dietary supplements for athletes and the danger of illegal steroid use in teen athletes. The luncheon briefing marked the 10th "meeting of the minds" between Congress and four supplement industry trade associations since 2008.

The topic comes at an appropriate time for the burgeoning sports supplements industry. The Sports Nutrition and Weight Loss category posted $2 billion in new sales in 2010, and grew 9 percent to reach $22.7 billion, according to Nutrition Business Journal. Over the past 13 years, the category has produced an impressive compound annual growth rate of 10.2 percent.

Speaking at the luncheon briefing were Football Hall of Famer Dick Butkus, a former Chicago Bears linebacker, and Dave Ellis, a sports dietician and anti-doping chair/president for the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association. The two discussed the need for clear education about which dietary supplements are "permissible" and safe for athletes.

In attendance were the American Herbal Products Association, the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the Natural Products Association and the United Natural Products Alliance. The associations, which jointly put on the Dietary Supplement Caucus event, share concerns that athletes may be unable to discern legitimate dietary supplements from illegally marketed supplements that contain steroids or drugs.

Speaking out against steroids and adulteration


One recent case on the radar of dietary supplements associations is the prevalence of adulterated sports products such as Jack3d, which contains the powerful stimulant methylhexaneamine (MHA). In December, the associations joined forces with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to support strengthened education and enforcement efforts in sports nutrition, an important step for keeping consumers safe and legitimate sports nutrition products available to athletes.

Although the FDA recently said it does not "have any direct evidence that would lead us to conclude that [MHA] is unsafe," industry recognizes the ingredient as unsafe in high dosages because it can lead to high blood pressure, an elevated heart rate and death. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned MHA last year.

A key message delivered during the Dietary Supplement Caucus was that a clear line separates the legitimate, legal products on the market from the illegal ones. "Dietary supplements are not steroids and steroids are not dietary supplements," said Butkus at the Caucus. "There is a legitimate role for supplements in sports nutrition, with products like multivitamins, protein bars, powders, to name a couple." Butkus referenced his "I Play Clean" campaign, a national initiative geared at educating high school athletes about the role of safe supplements and the impact and physical consequences of illegal anabolic steroid use.

Such supplement education on Capitol Hill is important because it keeps lawmakers abreast of issues affecting dietary supplements and lets members of Congress know that keeping consumers safe is a priority of the supplement industry.