The active ingredient in a pharmaceutical product is the working element, the component that is designed to affect a desired change in the physical condition of the recipient. Active ingredients are present in a wide range of sports-related substances, from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen, corticosteroids medications (including cortisone), a multitude of dietary supplements, and athletic aids such as sunscreen.
Most commercially available drugs are manufactured in one of four formulations: capsule form, tablets, liquids (such as cough syrups), and as fluids designed for intravenous delivery (most often used in hospitals). In each case, the active ingredient of the drug is usually a very small percentage of the weight or volume of the entire product. To deliver the active ingredient in a fashion that will permit the body to best absorb it, the active ingredient is packaged with a substance known as an excipient, a chemically inert substance that transports the active ingredient. The excipient also tends to protect the active ingredient from deteriorating (such as might occur if the active ingredient were exposed to oxygen for prolonged periods), as well as assisting in its absorption once the product is in the digestive system. Flavoring, coloring, and the coating of medications are well-known excipients.
Many pharmaceutical products and dietary supplements are marketed under the name of the active ingredient contained within the product; crea-tine supplements are an examples of products that are marketed in this fashion. Creatine supplements are used by strength-training athletes to enhance energy production and to shorten recovery times. In a typical 0.5 oz (13.5 g) serving of powdered supplement, crea-tine constitutes only slightly more than 0.1 oz (2.5 g) of the product, the balance being polydextrose, used an excipient, and a variety of other compounds.
The manner in which active ingredients are described in the commercial packaging of the product is subject to government regulations that mandate certain prescribed amounts of active ingredients to be included and described by labeling. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the regulatory authority. Examples of this regulation are the commonly used topical painkiller, lidocaine, often used to treat minor injuries, and sunscreens that are advertised as zinc oxide products. Lidocaine must, in fact, contain between 2% and 5% of the active ingredient; a zinc oxide sunscreen may not exceed 25% of the compound by weight.