What Is NSF Certification and Why Does It Matter for Sports Supplements?

What Is NSF Certification and Why Does It Matter for Sports Supplements?

Did you know that 77 percent of Americans consume dietary supplements? All the more reason to ensure that supplement products are tested for safety and quality, and this is the work we do at NSF International.

NSF International is an independent non-governmental organization that facilitates the development of public health and safety standards, and tests and certifies products and systems. We are widely recognized as the “gold standard” for quality in areas such as water systems, food safety, and health sciences including dietary supplements.

As NSF’s Managing Director of Dietary Supplements, I lead a team that provides companies the most current auditing, testing, and certification. The foundation of our work is dietary supplements, and a big part of that market is sports supplements, which is why we have a specific certification for them: Certified for Sport®.

Why Certify Sports Supplements for Athletes and Consumers Alike?

It’s not only professional athletes who are interested in the quality of sports supplements. Even if they don’t make a living out of sports, that doesn’t mean everyday athletes want unverified products.

Consumers look for quality products when they invest in their health and wellness, or when they take supplements  before a game or workout. Furthermore, regular folks and professional athletes are interested in very similar things when it comes to sports supplements.

They ask questions such as:

For professional athletes, in particular, there is also the career-ending risk of consuming a product that has a banned substance in it.  It’s an incredible risk: they spend their entire life training for an opportunity to compete professionally, and if they test positive because of something that was in a supplement, it’s all gone in a heartbeat.

How Does NSF’s Certified for Sport® Differ from Other Certifications?

Certified for Sport® is the most rigorous certification in the marketplace. We have auditors all around the world who go into the facilities every year and make sure they follow GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice). Also, we’re constantly developing new methods to identify the new harmful ingredients.

We also test certified products every year – it’s not a one-time thing. We monitor the product from the facilities where it’s being made to the final product in its sealed container.

An NSF scientist tests a sports nutrition supplement product

We look into the most robust list of banned substances, and it continues to grow, but we also try to stay ahead by monitoring online stores, retail stores, blogs, and web communities where athletes are posting about too-good-to-be-true benefits from a product.

This rigor has earned us a good reputation and trust. NSF’s Certified for Sport® is the only independent third-party certification program recognized by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Football League (NFL), and many other professional and amateur sports associations.

What Are the Requirements of NSF’s Certified for Sport® Program?

Our Certified for Sport® program validates that:

There are three steps to certifying a product:

1. Good Manufacturing Practice Registration

NSF’s Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) registration verifies that the product is manufactured, packaged, and stored in a facility that is audited twice annually for quality and safety in compliance with federal regulations for dietary supplements GMPs.

GMP registration includes audits of all production facilities that manufacture, package, warehouse, or distribute dietary supplements or functional foods and a review of quality control testing procedures for raw materials and finished products.

2. Contents Are Tested and Certified

Once step 1 is complete, NSF experts evaluate the product contents. They then test the finished product to verify that it contains no unsafe levels of contaminants and meets the claims and contents shown on the product label. We test for contaminants, microbiological and heavy metals, and pesticides/herbicides, among others.

3. Certified for Sport® Certification

Once steps 1 and 2 are complete, production lots are then tested to ensure they are free from more than 270 banned substances. Banned substance testing includes:

Once the product has passed these stages, the company can now add the Certified for Sport® mark on its product label.

Building Trust with Transparency, Educational Resources

As consumers seek more information about the nutrition products and supplements they consume, transparency is critical for the dietary supplements industry to build trust with consumers. That’s why NSF developed an online directory and app that helps the consumer make more informed decisions: it has a full list of certified products and users can scan a label or a bar code to learn more about a specific product. By having the most accurate information at their fingertips, consumers can “vote with their dollars,” stop buying low-quality products and elevate the reputation of brands based on the quality of their products.

Building trusting relationships with consumers is also the responsibility of nutrition and supplement companies like Herbalife Nutrition – where producing the highest quality products is a commitment and an essential part of their DNA. In particular, every batch of their Herbalife24 performance nutrition line is analyzed for banned substances and has earned NSF Certified for Sport® certification.

H24 products NSF Certified for Sport

Companies that view NSF certifications as enhancers rather than inhibitors understand that our level of testing and product requirements reflect a promise to every athlete, trainer, coach, and even weekend warrior: they can trust the product without risk of consuming any harmful or banned substance.

David Trosin

David TrosinManaging Director, Health Sciences Certification at NSF International

David Trosin is the Managing Director of NSF International’s health sciences certification program, which includes Certified for Sport®. He leads a team whose focus is providing companies the most current and credible auditing, testing, and certification, and separately, training services for the dietary supplement, functional food, beverage, cosmetics and OTC drug industries.