Supplements: Yes or no?

Albé Geldenhuys
Albé Geldenhuys
Comment by: Albé Geldenhuys

Should the use of sports nutrition supplements be permitted in professional sport? It’s a question that’s been doing the rounds lately with the South African Institute for Drug Free Sport (SAIDS) and the South African Rugby Union (SARU) both publicly advising against it.

Let me ask this: Would it be fair to expect accountants to deliver the same output today by only using computers and software programs from two decades ago? Just as accountants are professionals at what they do, so too are full-time sportsmen and women professionals at what they do.

There are expectations on accountants to deliver a certain amount of work in a specified time. The same goes for professional athletes. The demands on both professions have obviously increased substantially over the past two decades, but some still expect professional athletes to deliver today’s success with last century’s, for want of a better term, ‘tools’.

The tools of an athlete’s trade are largely his body, mind and motivation. A professional rugby player has modern technology dripping from his boots, undergarments, strapping and clothing, as well as a team of full-time professional coaches, doctors, physiotherapists and in some cases, even PR consultants! Heck, even the perfect grass in the stadiums these days is a product of 21st century advances!

Today’s top professional rugby player is expected to play as many as 40 matches a year, more than half of those at international level. In order to do this, he needs to train 5-6 days a week, usually twice a day, totaling up to 20 hours a week, sometimes more.

Energy and recovery are crucial for him to perform at his peak and satisfy the demands of his employers, the public and the media. And he has to try and prevent injuries too. Sure, it’s important to follow a balanced, whole-food diet, but is this enough? No, the energy and recovery demands of modern professional rugby cannot be adequately met through a whole-food diet alone. It’s impractical and unfair to expect this of the players.

And that’s where supplements play such a key role. They’re not meant to replace a whole-food diet, they’re meant to supplement it; to fill deficiencies and ensure players are able to wake up each day with the physical strength, mental acuity and confidence to face another tough training session or bruising match.

We’re South Africans, a fiercely competitive and uncompromising nation. We want our professional sportsmen and women to win and win and win. But remember, they’re professionals, just like any other profession. Will they be able to complete their job to our satisfaction without the appropriate ‘tools’?

What was that question again? Should the use of sports nutrition supplements be permitted in professional sport? Next question.

* The Business of Sport Column is produced in partnership with the Virgin Active Sport Industry Awards 2012. Now in their second year, the Awards have officially opened for entries; an annual opportunity for the rapidly evolving South African sports market to be recognised for its work. Click HERE for more details...or follow us on Twitter: @SportindustrySA

Albé Geldenhuys is the chairman and founder of USN
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