More than 70 delegates last week attended the first lunch briefing in Washington DC where they were informed about some of the truths and misconceptions surrounding the highly contentious and lucrative area that is sports supplementation. "We want members of Congress and their staffers to know that dietary supplements are not steroids - nor are they substitutes or replacements for hard work and determination," said Steve Mister, president and chief executive officer of CRN. "But along with rigorous training and healthy diets, supplements are mainstream, safe and effective products that athletes should feel comfortable and confident taking." Industry formed the Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus to communicate such messages and this series of meetings is being held in cooperation with the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and the Natural Products Association (NPA). "It's important that we educate individuals who come at this from all sides," said NPA executive director and chief executive officer David Seckman. "Congressional staffers are a key audience and play an important role, through policy and legislation, in determining availability and perception of dietary supplement products." Athletic concerns Many elite athletes are wary of consuming dietary supplements because of doping concerns and there have been high-profile deaths including a professional baseball player who died in 2003 after consuming the herbal weight loss product, ephedra. Ephedra was banned by the Food and Drug Administration the following year. Still, athletes swear by them and sales are robust in a range of areas from joint health, to muscle building and repair to energy enhancement. Nutrition Business Journal puts the sports supplements market at $2.5 billion in 2007, eight percent more than 2006. Industry feels more confident about its wares and has gone about improving the quality of its products via the implementation of regulations such as the years-in-the-making Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), with which companies of more than 500 employees must comply by June 26. Smaller companies have a period of grace of another one or two years to bring their own operations within GMP parameters. The briefing The briefing was delivered by Jay Hoffman, PhD, department chair and professor of Health and Exercise Science at the College of New Jersey, and Mark Bearden, strength and conditioning coach at George Washington University. "Supplements work," Bearden told the delegates, noting he was frequently quizzed by his students about the efficaciousness of dietary supplements to boost sports performance. "They are effective and efficient, if you purchase from a company with a proven track record." Mister added: "The physical stress from intense exercise depletes electrolytes and certain vitamins, which increases an athlete's nutrient needs, making dietary supplements a vital component in an athlete's training regimen."