Supplement use in rowing: Assess the need, assess the risk, assess the consequences

Read our steps on what you need to do if considering using supplements when rowing


British Rowing strongly encourages all rowers to follow the steps outlined below when considering using supplements. However, for Junior rowers, as per the British Rowing Supplement Policy, no junior should be using supplements and should instead focus on good training, food and recovery.

British Rowing and UK Anti-Doping accept that supplements can be an important part of a rower’s approach to nutrition. Particularly for rowers who are training at a very high intensity and volume.

However, before taking any type of supplement, it is really important that a rower seeks  advice and fully understands what is in them.

So how do you do this? Asses the Need. Assess the Risk. Assess the Consequence.

1. Assess the Need – seek expert advice

When considering using a supplement, you should consult a qualified nutritionist or dietitian (to find one search the Sport and Exercise Nutrition register) to identify two key things:

a) are there in fact simple ways you can adapt your diet to get the full benefits from a food first approach; and

b) if there is anything specific missing in your diet that you cannot get from food.

When considering the use of supplements, it is also important that you are aware that in UK dietary supplements are considered to be foods and therefore are not required to conduct specific preapproval requirements or safety assessments. There are possible adverse health effects that you may experience with use of supplements, so we recommend you speak to a qualified nutritionist or dietitian who will help to explain what these are.

Being able to identify exactly what you might benefit from if you were to use supplements will help to narrow the field ready for step two.

2. Assess the Risk – carry out and retain records of searches

If a nutritionist or dietician has made a recommendation to use supplements over and above a balanced diet, the next thing you need to do is reduce the risk of taking a supplement that contains a prohibited substance – a substance that is on the World Anti-Doping Prohibited List.

Prohibited substances can appear in supplements in many ways. For example, sometimes a prohibited substance may be an ingredient within the product although it might not appear listed on the ingredients label. Or, a prohibited substance could be the result of cross-contamination during the manufacturing process of that supplement.

There is a programme to help athletes, Informed-Sport, which is a risk minimisation scheme. Informed-Sport screen batches of supplements that are sent to them for as many prohibited substances as they are able to (they cannot screen for everything).

They also carry out checks of the facilities where supplements are made, and ensure that the company can demonstrate a history of where individual ingredients have come from.

Informed-Sport is a fantastic tool for rowers to be able to minimise the risk, however it is important to be aware that this does not completely remove the risk of taking a banned substance by mistake.

It is important to understand that the supplement market is poorly regulated and products are sometimes made by unscrupulous companies. That is why it’s important to assess the risk by carrying out detailed research into a supplement you take and retain records of your searches.

Finding a reputable supplier of supplements after you have ‘Assessed the Need – Assessed the Risk, and Assessed the Consequences’ is really important. British Rowing has chosen to partner with MSC Nutrition to provide supplements for our high-performance programme.  Within their range, MSC Nutrition provide a number of Informed Sport, batch-tested products, which British Rowing members can access at a discount.

The final thing to remember is when looking for a product which has been certified by Informed-Sport, rowers must check the batch number on the product they are considering correlates to the batch number listed on the Informed-Sport website. Sometimes this may mean contacting a company directly to purchase a specific product with that specific batch number. For the purchase of MSC products we recommend you use the contact form on their website to request a product from a specific batch.

3. Assess the Consequences – remember, presence of a prohibited substance in your body could result in a four year ban from all sport

Ultimately, it is a rower’s own decision. Is the potential consequence worth the risk?

For more information, you can download the British Rowing Supplement Policy from this page.