Booming demand for sports certification points to need for overall quality assurance, NSF exec says

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Booming demand for sports certification points to need for overall quality assurance, NSF exec says
The growth of the sports nutrition sector has boosted the demand for NSF’s Certified for Sport certification, says Lisa Thomas, the program’s director.  But the reach of the program extends well beyond products meant just for athletes.

“We have seen immense growth.  In 2013, the program actually doubled in size with regards to the number of customers and products that were actually certified.  In 2014 I think we are on pace to once again more than double in size,”​ Thomas, NSF’s general manager for dietary supplements and sports nutrition told NutraIngredients-USA.

Sports nutrition growth

Thomas attributes this demand to the growth of the sports nutrition sphere, which by most accounts has outpaced the growth of the dietary supplement business by a healthy margin. One measurement recently put the sector’s growth at 13%.  Thomas said after looking at demand for the certification program and the number of inquiries she gets, that growth looks more like 20% to her. (There is a big fudge factor to those assessments, because ‘sports nutrition’ is an ill-defined category.) But she said the demand speaks to a greater need for quality assurance for supplements in general.

“It’s a booming industry, and the more negative press that is out there, the more you find the good guys stepping up,” ​she said.

The NSF Certified for Sport program tests to make sure that supplements are free of a long list of banned substances, to assure that athletes using the products don’t run the risk of inadvertently failing a performance-enhancing drug test. That reassurance has brought buy-in from sports stakeholders, she said.

“Major League Baseball, the NFL and all of the the other sports groups we work with have told their players they need to take products with our certification if they are going to supplement,”​ Thomas said. “But they are a very small part of the consumers out there. The other side of the demand for Certified for Sport has nothing to do with athletes.”

Genearal quality seal

Thomas recounted her experience at a camp for high school quarterbacks in Southern California.  While the certification was initially meant for products aimed at the young players at the camp, most of the questions she fielded came from the players’ families, who were asking about how they could find supplements they were sure were high quality, properly made and safe for use for the whole family.

“In the NSF Certified for Sport program we verify label claims.  We do contaminant testing.  We verify what’s in the bottle.  But we also audit the facilities twice a year to make sure they comply with FDA GMP regulations,”​ she said.

New protein test

One of the main ingredients in many sports nutrition products is protein, and recently there has been some controversy in the industry as to how protein levels are measured.  Certain additional ingredients common to sports products, such as taurine, can boost the nitrogen levels on one of the tests used to measure protein, giving a falsely high reading for the total amount of protein. The American Herbal Products Association recently put out an advisory to its members to conform to a protein measurement​ that looks at nitrogen that comes only from protein.  Thomas said NSF will alter its certification standard to take the guidance into account.

“That’s the good thing about the program being ‘our’ program,”​ Thomas said. “We can react to what comes out of the industry.”

Off limits ingredients

One thing NSF won’t budge on is to extend the program to products that it considers to be off-limits.

“There are some types of ingredients of concern that we won’t touch because there is not enough toxicological data out there.  We will not get involved with sex enhancement products or weight loss products.  We won’t touch anything that has do do with testosterone boosting, and we won’t take a product that has ‘anabolic’ on the label,”​ she said.

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