Athletes use of supplements increases

Emily Arthur

Despite the popularity of performance-enhancing nutritional

supplements among college athletes, ISU athletic trainers and

staff discourage student-athletes from taking

performance-enhancing drugs.

However, it can be difficult to track or detect the use of potentially

harmful or illegal substances among athletes, an ISU health

official said.

According to a National Collegiate Athletic Association survey, 42

percent of college athletes use unregulated nutritional

supplements that may contain banned substances.

NCAA officials distributed surveys earlier this year to athletic

personnel in every university program in all three divisions. About

21,000 student athletes were polled, accounting for 12 percent of

the nation’s student-athlete population.

Among the 42 percent of student athletes surveyed in the past year

who said they used supplements – not including multivitamins –

only 15 percent said the supplements were acquired from an

athletic trainer.

ISU head athletic trainer Mark Coberley said his staff allows

student athletes to use performance-enhancing nutritional


However, the training staff tries to discourage supplement use.

“We tell the athletes at the additional team meetings that we don’t

want them taking supplements,” Coberley said. “We tell them what

to look out for on the labels and what products aren’t allowed and

may be costly to their eligibility or their health.”

If an athlete is unsure if a product is safe and legal, the staff asks

the athlete to bring in the supplements. Coberley said this is a

common occurrence.

“They bring it in, and we go through every product on the label,” he

said. Although Coberley and his staff try to regulate the

supplements student athletes use, he said it’s not always


“The first danger is that we don’t know what exactly is in these

supplements,” said Marc Shulman, physician for all ISU athletic

teams said. “They’re packaged so the companies don’t always

disclose what’s in them. There could be dangers without us really

knowing them.”

Although Coberley and his staff cannot always identify dangerous

ingredients in supplements, it’s not possible to enforce a ban on

supplements within the athletic program.

“We can’t not allow it, because the supplements aren’t banned [by

the NCAA],” he said. “What we continue to do is to remind [the

athletes] that there might be something in these products that

could show up on a drug test.”

Random drug tests for athletes can be requested by the NCAA, the

Big 12 Conference and Iowa State.

“Random drug testing is done all the time,” Coberley said. “That’s

why we really try to educate everyone. We’d hate for them to come

back with a positive test because they unknowingly [used] a

banned substance that was included in the supplement they were


Coberley said student athletes have tested positive for banned

substances at colleges across the country – including Iowa


Some of the most commonly banned substances include the

stimulant ephedrine.

“If it’s there, it’s going to show up,” Coberley said.

Of the 42 percent of student-athletes who said they used

supplements in the NCAA survey, 3.9 percent said they used

ephedrine. This is up from 3.5 percent in the last NCAA survey,

which was conducted in 1997.

Of all the banned substances, ephedrine is the most common –

and one of the most dangerous, Shulman said.

“There are some circumstances where ephedrine can be really be

dangerous,” he said. “It gives those who take it extra energy as

well as speeding up a lot of the body processes.”

Although nutritional supplements are primarily associated with

athletes, Shulman said he also believes stimulants are a danger

for any college student.

“I think the bigger problem is that college students in general, not

just athletes, are taking supplements,” Shulman said. “There are

some surveys released where it shows over 60 percent of

students are taking nutritional supplements.”

Shulman’s words come on the heels of a survey released Monday

by The Healthy Competition Foundation, which found 390,000

children between 10 and 14, have taken performance-enhancing


Healthy lifestyles eliminate the need for supplements and wipe out

the risks of negative side effects, Shulman said.

“Most people can get all the nutritional supplements they need

from a balanced diet, exercise and multivitamins,” he said.

“There’s usually no need to use supplements, and we really

discourage it.”