- Supplements can not substitute for the benefits we get from including nutritious whole foods in our daily diet, but they can be useful in bridging nutritional gaps.
- Anyone choosing a greens supplement should opt for a high quality product that is transparent with its ingredients and dosages, and is third-party tested.
- For athletes that are prohibited from consuming certain substances, extra caution must be taken when choosing a supplement.
Why Greens Powders?
Green powders are a type of dietary supplement that consists of dried, powdered forms of a number of greens. These can include leafy greens such as spinach and kale, grasses like barley grass and wheatgrass, and algae such as spirulina and chlorella. They may also include herbal extracts, fiber, probiotics, and digestive enzymes.
Due to their nutrient-dense ingredient list, green powders are thought to impart various health benefits.
Research suggests that green powders may:
- Increase the nutrient density of the diet
- Improve energy levels (Source)
- Support immune function (Source)
- Reduce blood pressure (Source)
- Reduce oxidative damage (Source)
It is these health benefits that make greens supplements an attractive option for athletes looking to be on top of their game.
Are Greens Powders Necessary For Athletes?
It is always preferable to get our nutrients from whole foods as part of a nutritious balanced diet. The specific range of nutrients in whole foods – vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fiber, proteins – work together in our bodies synergistically, providing the best possible benefit.
While nothing can trump the benefits that come with eating highly nutritious whole foods, dietary supplements can be helpful for filling any nutritional gaps, or further supplementing a healthy diet.
However, as athletes are typically amongst the healthiest people, often going through regular health monitoring and living in line with personalized professional advice, they are less likely to see a significant benefit from taking micronutrient supplements for general health.
As consuming vitamins or minerals above the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) does not appear to result in enhanced performance, athletes do not usually need to take multivitamin products unless there is a specific need for them.
Athletes who do not eat a well-rounded diet or who compete in weight-controlled sports may be at an increased risk for vitamin or mineral deficiencies, which may negatively affect performance and in which case a supplement may provide some benefit.
However, athletes are likely to be tested for micronutrient inadequacies and given an individual nutrient supplement specific to their deficiency in these cases.
Choosing A Greens Powder As An Athlete
Despite this, many athletes, professional and amateur, as well as highly active people, do choose to take greens supplements and likely feel that they benefit from taking them.
Athletic Greens is a popular option amongst this cohort, as it is tailored towards them.
One of the reasons Athletic Greens is so popular amongst athletes is that its formula is NSF Certified for Sport. This means that every single batch of the Athletic Greens formula is extensively tested by the highly reputed NSF to ensure that it is free from any banned substances.
This allows athletes to know straight away that they can consume the formula without having to worry about ingesting any banned substances.
However, the Athletic Greens formula is made up of proprietary blends, meaning it lacks transparency, which is a major drawback with this brand.
Transparency is one of the important things to look out for when choosing a greens supplement.
The ingredients and dosages in greens powders can vary largely from brand to brand.
A lot of supplement companies mask the ingredients in their powder and the quantities of ingredients by labeling their products as proprietary blends. This makes it very hard for the consumer to decipher what exactly is in the product.
The term proprietary blend refers to a specially formulated mixture of ingredients in a product where only the combined amount of all the blend’s ingredients are labeled, and the actual potency of each substance in the mix itself is not disclosed to consumers.
This means that the person taking the supplement really has no idea how much of each ingredient they are getting, or in some cases which ingredients are even included in the blend.
Deciphering proprietary blends and their potential health benefits is nearly impossible, and this style of labeling makes underdosing on key ingredients more likely as well as increasing the likelihood of the mixture containing cheap fillers and other ingredients consumers want to avoid.
This is why it is recommended to avoid products that use proprietary blends.
Because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the safety or efficacy of supplements in the same way that it monitors medicines and drugs, a major concern with greens powder supplements is their potential to contain heavy metals and other contaminants.
A greens powder that undergoes third-party testing is tested by an outside organization to ensure it contains only what is stated in its label and that there are no contaminants present.
These verifications are certified by organizations such as:
- NSF International
- United States Pharmacopeia (USP)
And are a good indicator of the quality of a greens powder as these organizations set strict standards for the purity and potency of supplements.
Not all supplements undergo third-party testing – if your product has a third-party certification, it should have a verification seal on the label.
An additional consideration for athletes when choosing a greens supplement is the presence of any banned substances in the product.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List outlines the banned substances that are prohibited in sports.
There are a surprising number of supplements on the market that have been found to contain banned or potentially harmful substances that are often not listed on the label. Examples include stimulants, anabolic steroids, and beta-2 agonists. (Source)
There are two certifications that sports nutrition supplement manufacturers can pursue:
- NSF Certified for Sport
- Informed Sports Certification Program
Both certifications have value and one is not better than the other. But they do have some differences, which are listed here:
- NSF tests for herbicides, pesticides, heavy metals, and microbial contaminants in addition to 280 banned substances. Informed Sports tests for over 250 banned substances.
- Informed-Sport and NSF both test every batch/lot of product for banned substances, and results are available on both websites. Informed-Sport states that they do this testing before the product hits shelves.
- Informed-Sport-certified products are blind tested using samples purchased from retail stores 1-4 times a year.
- Both programs verify product contents against ingredient lists. NSF additionally verifies the protein and caffeine content in the product.
- NSF Certified for Sport requires the manufacturing facility to go through the GMP registration process.
- While the US Anti-Doping Agency recognizes only NSF Certified for Sport, many European sports organizations recognize Informed-Sport certification. Many athletic organizations and governing bodies recognize either certification, but some publish a clear preference.
For athletes that risk receiving penalties for the consumption of banned substances, sports certification is an important consideration.
Some supplements may contain certain additives such as fillers, binders, sweeteners, preservatives, etc.
These additives are often used to increase the supplements’ shelf life, help bind ingredients together, or improve the texture, color, taste, or consistency, while fillers can be included to help cut costs or add substance to tablets and capsules.
Although these ingredients may be necessary in some cases, it’s best to steer clear of supplements that contain a long list of additives. They offer no nutritional benefit and some may be harmful or include allergens such as corn, gluten, or soy.
This is another reason why the transparency of ingredients is so important.
If you are vegan or vegetarian, it is important to also look out for the presence of animal-derived ingredients like gelatin, carmine, magnesium stearate, collagen, and lanolin.
Some products are certified vegan, so opt for these if you want to be sure that the product is made without the use of animal products and not tested on animals.
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Human Tonik Supergreen Tonik
Although Human Tonik’s Supergreen Tonik is not sport certified, it can be a good option for those who do not require sports-certified products such as amateur athletes and people who are highly active in a recreational capacity.
Human Tonik are completely transparent with their Supergreen Tonik formula and never rely on proprietary blends.
All ingredients are listed along with the corresponding dosage for each. This ensures consumers know exactly what they are getting from each serving.
Supergreen Tonik is third-party tested to ensure it complies with safety regulations and is suitable for vegans as well as those following a keto or paleo diet.
The nutritional profile of Supergreen Tonik may increase the nutritional density of the diet and may contribute to supporting energy and immune function.
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Minimizing Supplement Risks As An Athlete
When taking a supplement comes with the risk of facing severe consequences, extreme caution should be exercised.
For athletes, consuming banned substances either intentionally or unintentionally has several repercussions – from negative effects on mental and physical health to permanent damage to an athlete’s image and relationships, or a ban from the sport for several years.
The responsibility to ensure there are no prohibited substances in an athlete’s system is solely the athlete’s own. This is regardless of how the substance got there or whether it was intentional.
This is why it’s important for athletes to assess their need for, and choice of, supplements.
In many countries, the manufacturing and labeling of supplements do not follow strict rules, in the way that medicine and drugs do. This can lead to a supplement containing a substance that is prohibited under anti-doping regulations.
There is no guarantee that any dietary supplement is free from banned substances.
Products can become contaminated with prohibited substances during the manufacturing process and the ingredient labeling on products can also be inaccurate.
Choosing supplements that are certified by the available quality assurance schemes, the NSF or Informed Sports, can help to reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of inadvertently consuming a banned substance.
However, there are no guarantees that any supplement product is free from banned substances and athletes must be fully aware of the risks to their careers if they chose to use a supplement product.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or any other anti-doping organization cannot endorse or approve supplement products. (Source)
“Perfect greens supplement to support my daily health and training needs”
I use Human Tonik greens to ensure I get my daily veggies in my diet but as a powerlifter to support my heavy training needs. It tastes pretty good too!
What You Can Do
1. Assess The Need
Seek advice from a qualified medical professional to determine whether or not you need to use a supplement.
2. Assess The Consequences
Find out the consequences to your career prior to using any supplement product.
You can never be fully sure that a product is 100% free of prohibited substances.
Is it worth it?
3. Assess The Risks
If you choose to use a supplement, opt for sport-certified, batch-tested products to minimize the risk of contamination.
4. Do Your Research
The World Anti-Doping Code requires all athletes to undertake thorough internet research prior to using any supplement product.
There is a provision for contaminated products, such as supplements, so make sure you can prove that you have taken all steps to manage the risks associated with supplement use. (Source)
Greens powders are a dietary supplement used to bridge nutritional gaps for those who struggle to include green vegetables in their daily diet consistently.
However, supplements are no substitute for the benefits we get from eating nutrient-dense whole foods.
Because athletes are generally very healthy, they are less likely to need a general multi-nutrient supplement, except for specific cases.
Despite this, some athletes and other highly active people do find benefits from taking greens supplements.
It is important for anyone choosing a greens supplement to opt for a high-quality supplement that is transparent with its ingredients and dosages and third-party tested.
Athletes need to be more cautious than regular people when taking supplements because they are at risk of violating anti-doping regulations if they take a supplement that contains any prohibited substances in it.
For this reason, it is important for athletes to weigh up the risk-benefit ratio of taking a supplement first, and then choose a brand that includes sports certification.
If you’re an athlete that is bound by the World Anti-Doping Code, always consult a trained and qualified sports nutritionist before taking a dietary supplement.
Lucy Brennan is a registered associate nutritionist (ANutr) and freelance writer specializing in health, nutrition and wellness content. She holds a BSc. (First Class Hons) in Public Health Nutrition and has over 4 years’ experience working in health communication, which is where her passion lies.
She has worked in roles with The Irish Food Board and FleishmanHillard PR, on their healthcare team, working with national and international health companies. Using this experience, Lucy now writes content in a freelance capacity. Lucy is dedicated to providing evidence-based content that is both engaging and accessible and inspires readers to make informed choices regarding their health.