“It is the Athletes’ personal duty to ensure that no Prohibited Substance enters their bodies. Athletes are responsible for any Prohibited Substance or its Metabolites or Markers found to be present in their Samples.” – WADA Code.
it is estimated that up to 9% of all the positive doping tests nowadays are caused by elite athletes using poorly labelled sports nutrition supplements (Outram and Stewart, 2015).
Supplements are mainly consumed for health and performance reasons, when used in the correct manner they form a “filling in the gaps” approach as directed by a qualified nutritionist and/or medical professional. This could be an evidence-based sports supplement for an athlete, for example caffeine or oral sodium bicarbonate. These evidence-based sport supplements can be viewed here.
Unfortunately, many products claim to do all this and more, in general, capitalizing on predatory marketing and people’s insecurities about health or performance. It is well documented that some nutritional supplements can cause health problems and also contain prohibited substances.
For this post we’re going to draw on some recent research by Duiven et al. (2021). The full text can be viewed here.
What did the authors do?
Health web shops targeting the Dutch market were searched in the fourth quarter of 2014. Brands were excluded if they were not sold by more than 50% of these online web shops, executed a contaminated screening programme (such as informed sport), contained controlled substances on the label among other exclusion criteria which can be viewed in the full text link above.
Supplements selected were grouped into various performance enhancing claims: modulate hormone regulation, stimulate muscle mass gain, increase fat loss, or boost energy; such functional categories being identified as potentially posing a greater risk to the athlete.
All this sounds very familiar from a walk through a supplement aisle in a health shop!
At the end of this, 66 products from 21 brands and 17 web shops were selected and sent for analysis.
What did they find?
The main finding can be seen in the figure below.
“Of the 66 sports nutrition supplements, 25 products (38%) tested positive for the presence of doping substances, 38 products (58%) tested negative, and the results of 3 products (4.5%) were inconclusive”.
The list of controlled substances and their positive findings ranked from high to trace amounts can be seen below. A quick search of any of these substances with the word sport after it will result in numerous articles regarding positive cases and rules against their use.
What does this mean for us?
Refer back to the very start of this article and the WADA Code. The athlete is responsible for everything and anything that goes into their body. If you are available for anti-doping control which the vast majority of the readers here will be (whether they know it or not!) you need to take some responsibility here.
Some of our tips below:
- Take advice ONLY from qualified and registered sports nutritionists or dieticians, ask for their relevant qualifications and registrations with relevant bodies.
- As a general rule of thumb listen to no one who provides a supplement first mentality and preaches the fact that “every athlete” should be on this product.
- Ensure a supplement is batch tested.
- Check any claimed benefits or referenced sources on supplement companies’ websites. If the reference isn’t to peer reviewed scientific literature or a relevant governing body for sport then don’t bother reading it.
- Educate yourself via your national governing body on relevant protocols for anti-doping. Coaches and athletes should take the anti-doping module with your governing body for sport in your particular country.
- Be aware that not all GPs will be aware of various anti-doping rules, check any supplements they recommend against the WADA list of banned substances. A sports medicine doctor is your best bet here!
- Coaches should not share or align themselves with companies who provide various supplements that range from health to performance if ALL supplements in the range are not batch tested. This is due to their influence or power of persuasion over an athlete who may take their own initiative to then sample other supplements in the range.
- Check out examine.com!
“In conclusion, many sports nutrition supplements sold online still contain undeclared doping substances. The pre-scribed use of such products significantly increases the risk of unintentional doping violations and may even impose general health risks. Food regulation authorities, doping controlled athletes, and WADA are advised to take appropriate actions.”
Takes for reading!
Duiven, E., van Loon, L. J., Spruijt, L., Koert, W., & de Hon, O. M. (2021). Undeclared Doping Substances are Highly Prevalent in Commercial Sports Nutrition Supplements. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 20(2), 328-338.
Outram, S. and Stewart, B. (2015) Doping through supplement use: a re-view of the available empirical data. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 25, 54-59.