Third-Party Review of Supplements

by NSCA's Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning
Kinetic Select November 2021


This excerpt from NSCA's Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning explains the importance of third-party certifications on supplements in the tactical population.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book NSCA's Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

Although the FDA has authority to order product recalls and take action against noncompliant manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements, the FDA is typically not able to identify noncompliant products until after they have been marketed and sold. Thus, dietary supplements containing adulterants or contaminants may be purchased by consumers before the FDA can demonstrate that a supplement is unsafe or in violation of federal guidelines to restrict the sale or consumption of the supplement. Multiple recent studies have documented cases in which over-the-counter dietary supplements have been adulterated with banned or unapproved stimulants (21, 22), anabolic steroids and related compounds (20), or pharmaceutical drugs (20, 28). As a result, a number of companies have emerged to perform independent third-party testing to verify or certify the purity of dietary supplements. By limiting supplement consumption to products that have been tested by a third party, tactical athletes can greatly reduce their risk of adverse events or failed drug screens as a result of dietary supplementation.

Current supplement certification programs are offered by companies such as NSF International, Informed-Choice, U.S. Pharmacopeia, Consumer Lab, and the Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG). Companies that manufacture and distribute supplements can voluntarily (and for a cost) submit their products for independent verification and certification from these companies; upon approval, these products will bear a logo on the product label to demonstrate that they passed inspection. Tactical personnel should be advised to carefully inspect the label of any potential supplement purchase and seek out products that bear logos indicating third-party certification from a reputable company.

Third-party testing can take a number of forms:

  • Certification of manufacturing facilities: This process generally includes a full (paper or electronic and physical) audit of the manufacturing facilities, including personnel, equipment, operating procedures, and records kept by the facility, to ensure that the facility complies with CGMPs and is free of contaminants. Facility certification typically includes return visits, whereby the certifying body performs periodic visits to ensure that the manufacturer maintains compliance with CGMPs while enrolled in the certification program.
  • Certification of raw ingredients: Companies that distribute raw ingredients for use in a wide range of supplements can voluntarily enroll to have their ingredients certified. This certification generally involves a third-party company testing the ingredients for identity, purity, strength, and quality. The testing typically aims to verify that the ingredient is prepared and handled according to CGMPS, matches the identity and purity that are claimed, is free of contaminants, and is free of banned substances.
  • Certification of finished dietary supplements: For this certification, third-party companies generally inspect a facility to ensure CGMP compliance. They then test the finished product to ensure that it meets label claims (including identity and purity of ingredients), is free of contaminants, and is free of banned substances.

To ensure that compliance is maintained for certified facilities, raw ingredients, or finished products, companies must generally agree to periodic follow-up testing for as long as they remain enrolled in the program and claim to be third-party certified. Any certification labels should be closely inspected to determine what types of certification and product testing were performed. Logos may indicate that the manufacturer’s facility was voluntarily audited and inspected to ensure CGMP compliance, that the product was tested for banned substances and adulterants, or that the product was tested to verify the contents of listed ingredients. The exact testing and certification procedures can vary among third-party testing organizations, but the consumption of certified products can significantly reduce the risk of consuming deleterious or banned substances in dietary supplements, thereby reducing the risks of adverse events and positive drug screens.

NSCA's Essentials of Tactical Strength and Conditioning is the ideal preparatory guide for those seeking Tactical Strength and Conditioning Facilitator® (TSAC-F®) certification, and a reference for fitness trainers who work with tactical populations, such as military, law enforcement, and fire and rescue personnel. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

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