20080301PennyHeyns1.jpgThe values of good sportsmanship, honesty and fair play lie very close to my heart. My personal view as an athlete was that I had a responsibility toward myself, my Creator, and my peers and family, etc., to develop my talents to the maximum and in so doing, to always play the game honestly. 

It is my firm belief that there are no quick fixes and true excellence can only be achieved through years of honest work, lots of patience and intelligent training. While the advances in technology and medical science can benefit athletes immensely, I still believe natural human potential and the level of performance that one can attain by way of balanced training and honest methods will ultimately far outperform the results gained through quick but illegal performance enhancement measures.

20080301PennyHeyns2.jpgBalanced training and honest methods refers to healthy, natural and balanced nutrition, concise and focussed training, sufficient recovery both physically and mentally, the use of cutting edge science and technology for technique and fitness development, and correct and sufficient stretching for injury prevention and treatment.

Furthermore, I believe true excellence comes through the holistic development in the areas of mind, body and spirit. Only when all three are in balance and equally supported and developed, can true optimum performance be harnessed and thereby true success enjoyed.

Because I have always believed in the development and natural enhancement of the individuals’ full potential, I seek to preserve what is intrinsically valuable about sport.

This intrinsic value is often referred to as “the spirit of sport”; it is the essence of Olympism; it is how I play true. The spirit of sport is the celebration of the human spirit, body and mind, and is characterized by the following values:

  • Ethics, fair play and honesty
  • Health
  • Excellence in performance
  • Character and education
  • Fun and joy
  • Teamwork
  • Dedication and commitment
  • Respect for rules and laws
  • Respect for self and other participants
  • Courage
  • Community and solidarity.

Doping is fundamentally contrary to the spirit of sport, and thus it really grieved me to hear about a lead article published on the front page of the Rapport newspaper toward the end of 2006. The headlines read, “Skolesport skande”, referring to doping amongst schoolboy rugby players.

The article described how parents buy banned substances for their children to use, so that they can be selected for the provincial schools teams with the hope of getting a contract with one of the senior provincial unions. Carte Blanche did an expose on their programme on 24 September where young people, many of them still at school, admitted to using steroids and revealed that the practice was widespread in some schools.

20080301PennyHeyns3.jpgOne does not need to be a rocket scientist to determine the reason why many top sportspeople resort to doping, which is nothing but cheating to achieve success – money! What is shocking is that this greed for money leads people to totally disregard the long-term health consequences of such behaviour.

Doping in any form is contrary to the Spirit of Sport and the principles of sportsmanship, and fair play must be re-introduced to the youth of South Africa. I believe that true success is the outcome of the honest pursuit of a personal destiny, and the fulfilment of one’s intrinsic potential in a natural way.

Having said this though, I must stress that while doping is illegal and should be eliminated, we as athletes do need to take care with regards to ensuring good nutrition for optimum training. Sport supplements are useful and beneficial when used correctly and for the right reasons.

The problem we face though is that the market is inundated with various sport supplement brands, promising great results, but delivering little. Wise choices can only be made when we understand the nature of supplements and why we should consider their use.

What is a Sport Supplement?

Sport supplements are relatively new nutritional products commonly used by different athletic groups. According to Burke & Read (1993), there are some definition criteria for sport supplements.

A sport supplement:

  • Contains nutrients in amounts generally similar to the levels specified in the recommended dietary intakes or allowances (RDIs/RDAs), and similar to the amounts found in foods;
  • Provides a convenient or practical way of ingesting these nutrients, particularly in the athletic setting;
  • Helps athletes achieve their known physiological or nutritional requirements;
  • Contains nutrients in large amounts for use in treating a known nutrient deficiency;
  • Has been shown to meet a specific physiological or nutritional need that improves sport performance; and
  • Is generally acknowledged as a valuable product by sport medicine and science experts.

Why Use Sport Supplements?

Generally, athletes look to nutritional supplements for many benefits, often to offset the heavy annual training program. However, the main reasons are:

  • to promote adaptation to training;
  • to increase energy sources and supplies;
  • to allow more consistent and intensive training, by promoting recovery between training sessions;
  • to maintain good health and reducing interruptions to training due to overtraining, illness or injury; and
  • to achieve peak performance.

Medical Problems

There are two important questions on safety and health aspects of dietary supplements:

Is the supplement safe at the recommended dosages? Many nutritional ergogenic aids and sport supplements are relatively safe at a low dose, but have adverse effects at the recommended dose for improved performances that far outweigh the benefits of the product.

Does the product cause long term health problems? Some sport supplements require the athlete to consume pills, powders, or liquids for relatively long periods of time. However, many supplements may not be safe in the long-term. Unfortunately, the majority of supplements are not evaluated more than 8 – 10 weeks.

A large number of supplement products are new and their long-term side effects are unknown. Thus, athletes using supplements for long-term periods may be at serious health risks.

Doping and Contamination Issues

Athletes who are liable for drug testing under national or international programs should be especially cautious about supplement use. Some nutritional ergogenic aids are prepared in unhygienic conditions and contain toxins, bacterial and fungal contamination that may cause gastrointestinal problems or induce infections.

Others do not contain ingredients – especially the expensive ones – that are listed on the supplement label. Contamination of dietary supplements with substances that may cause an athlete to fail a doping test is widespread – some surveys have suggested that as many as one in four supplements may result in a positive test. These prohibited compounds have not been declared on the label, so there is no way for the athlete to know that they are present.

At present, there can be no guarantee of the purity of any commercial supplement. The only way to be sure is to avoid supplements altogether, but many athletes are unwilling to accept this advice. The sensible athlete will want to see very good reasons for using a supplement and a very low risk of an adverse test before deciding to use it.

All athletes must be very careful when using supplements as there is a strict liability principle that holds them responsible for everything they eat or drink. Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse for a positive doping result. Check all supplements with a medical officer and if there is any doubt at all, don’t take it.


Nutritional ergogenic aids are very appealing to the athlete who seeks ergogenic aids to assist their performance. However, before using any nutritional ergogenic aid athletes should first consult with their sport dietician or sport physician. However, any sport supplement, even those select ones with proven benefits and safety are not going to enhance athletic performance unless the athlete is practicing well, and has appropriate nutritional strategies.

Safe and approved nutritional ergogenic aids are only the “supplement” for good training and nutrition practices; they are not alternatives for them. There are no “quick fixes” for true success.


Article written for FINA Aquatics World magazine (January 2008 – No 61) by Dr. Shahram F. Mevaloo MD


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gsport Newsroom

gsport Newsroom

Launched in 2006, gsport exists to enhance the commercial prospects of our women athletes, and other women in sport, by telling the inspiring story of SA women in sport. Thank you for your contribution!

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