Did you know that the MAJORITY of failed doping tests in Australia in 2016 were from tainted supplements?
Research shows that up to ONE in FIVE popular supplements are contaminated with banned substances.
In 2016, an extensive analysis was performed on the most common supplement products available in Australia. They included pre-workout, post-workout, protein, fat-burning and multivitamin products and covered things like powders, drinks, tablets and edible bars. Somewhat disturbing was the fact that ONE IN FIVE contained one or more substances that are banned in sport. Importantly, NONE the products listed any banned substances on their ingredients list.
Supplement contamination is a very real problem.
Additionally, an athlete with a positive doping test will find that it is extremely difficult to get any leniency by claiming supplement contamination.
WADA code athletes are held to the principle of strict liability. For any leniency you must not only prove supplement contamination but it needs to be demonstrated in a sealed, unopened container in your possession where the level of contamination needs to be exactly consistent with the amount found in your system. It is nearly impossible. Athletes like this and this and this are likely to be victims of bad luck and bad supplement research than they are to be drug cheats.
There are four distinct problems here
1. Products don’t always contain what is on the label
2. Product are able to make claims with no scientific basis of fact. In most countries, most supplements are classified and regulated as food rather than pharmaceuticals which gives them freedom of making unfounded (and often preposterous) claims that pharmaceuticals can’t
3. Products are intentionally tainted by the manufacturer. This is a bigger problem in the US than in Australia but is especially an issue if you purchase supplements online.
4. Products that are unintentionally contaminated.
In my professional opinion, we need a cultural shift in sport. There has been extensive research into supplements and the independent science tells us that there are very few supplements that have any benefit in sport and most of these are only effective in certain scenarios and deficiencies that are easily identified by a doctor. A full list of what has been proven to work can be found here at the AIS website. They also have a full list of what doesn’t work and what is dangerous.
(incidentally, there are only 5 'medical supplements' and 5 'performance supplements' on the supported list)
Athletes who campaign strongly for clean sport yet accept big dollars to advertise supplement companies are missing the point. They are unwittingly contributing to a culture and belief that ‘taking something’ can be the missing ingredient of success. It is that same culture that spiraled into disaster at the Essendon Football club. After-all most of the players thought they were just receiving ‘vitamins’ and surely simply getting ‘vitamins’ is ok even if it is injected and even if it was in the belief that it would give them an advantage over their rivals.
So, what can a clean athlete do to protect themselves?
The safest thing is to drop the psychological attachment to the snake-oil, take only what an accredited Sports Dietician (not nutritionist – anyone can call themselves that) or Sports Physician prescribes for you. Double-check everything you take on the Global DRO website (here) even if it is ‘all natural’ or ‘over the counter’ and even if it is prescribed by the above-mentioned specialists. And don’t ever buy any supplements from overseas or online.