IRFU warn of banned substances potentially lurking in some supplements

Union strongly advises U-18s against the use of nutritional aids, especially creatine

IRFU nutritionist Ruth Wood Martin: ‘Protein supplements should not be recommended by schools’. Photo:Dan Sheridan/Inpho

IRFU nutritionist Ruth Wood Martin: ‘Protein supplements should not be recommended by schools’. Photo:Dan Sheridan/Inpho


The IRFU have sent a warning to their affiliated schools about banned substances being contained in supplements that can be easily purchased on the “internet and in high street stores”.

However, drug testing of underage players after school matches will not be introduced.

There are anti-doping procedures in place after provincial and international games, starting at under-18 level, but parental consent and player assent continue to block a more widespread programme.

“Testing will identify banned substances and subsequently a positive doping outcome,” said IRFU nutritionist Ruth Wood Martin. “However, the banned substance in a product isn’t really key to saying why young players shouldn’t be using them.

“It is about education of what they eat and drink from a general health point of view and a growth point of view and how that should be the cornerstone of their support for their training programme.

“In fact, rugby is leading the way in working with the Irish Sports Council on testing. We are the only sport that has an anti-doping programme for underage players. We are fully supportive of it but supplement use should not be used as the reason why anti-doping programmes are brought into place.”

Own them
Dr Brendan Buckley, chairman of the Sports Council’s anti-doping committee, told The Irish Times last February: “The problem is governance. The IRFU doesn’t govern schools rugby and even though they facilitate schools competitions, they don’t own them. We are working to get around that problem at the moment, and it is fundamental to the whole issue of consent. It’s a process of negotiation. The IRFU are not holding back on this, they are very keen.”

The union’s primary concern, conveyed via Wood-Martin, a registered dietician for over 20 years who works primarily with the national squad, was that young people are risking their health by using supplements that can be purchased without age restriction.

“Some may unknowingly take banned substances,” read an IRFU statement.

“Ms Wood-Martin and the IRFU believe that the increased popularity of such products, across all ages and all sports, may be due to a lack of understanding of the claims made by manufacturers, many of which are not backed up by scientific evidence.

“The IRFU advises all young people to resist supplement use.”

Many professional Irish rugby players do, however, use creatine on a regular basis.

“These are two very different groups of athletes,” said Wood-Martin. “Under-18s are still physically growing and that’s one of the reasons we do not know the effect creatine has got on a growing kidney.

“Physically mature and elite players are a different beast really. Not only are they generally physically mature but they are in programmes that are managed and supervised . . .

Wood-Martin added: “The IRFU strongly advises against the use of nutritional aids, in particular creatine, in young players under 18 years of age. Also the use of protein supplements should not be recommended by schools, coaches, teachers or others involved in the training of young athletes.

“There is a possibility that a sports supplement may contain a banned and possibly harmful substance that a player is unaware of. This could see them fail an anti-doping test or risk their health.”

It’s accepted that creatine and other supplement use is widespread among underage rugby players in Ireland.

“This messagerelates specifically to young, underage players and the key thing is it simply hasn’t been adequately studied at this age group for us to be in a position to give a detailed answer or to stand over that supplement use may not be harmful in the long term.

“And that’s as much to do with there being consent issues to do research with under-18s. The risks associated with it are more the fact they really don’t need to be taking them. On top of that the whole supplement industry is fairly unregulated and nobody can be 100 percent sure what is actually in a product.”