No discussion on ergogenic aids would be complete without mentioning doping. In 2012, 44% of UK doping cases were through inadvertent use of a banned substance. UK Anti-Doping operates a strict athlete liability policy – the athlete is ALWAYS responsible for what is found in their body, regardless of how it got there. And by far the biggest risk of taking a banned substance without meaning to is from supplements and ergogenic aids.
Why are supplements so risky?
There are a couple of reasons why supplements may contain banned substances. Supplements such as protein powders, powdered sports drinks, creatine, etc. are not regulated in the same way as medications or food. That means they can contain all sorts of things, including banned substances. Especially if bought over the internet from countries with lower standards. Bear in mind that some substances on the Prohibited List (the list of substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency) are perfectly legal in many countries. They are only banned for athletes.
Supplement manufacturers can also be cagey about their ingredients to protect their “unique” formulas. They may not list all the ingredients, or may list them differently to how they would appear on the Prohibited List. What’s more, supplements are often made in the same factories as drugs, so cross contamination can occur.
Do I need to take supplements?
In the case of most recreational and development athletes, there should be very little need to take any supplements. Modifying the diet is usually much more effective. For example, getting more protein from milk, eggs, fish and lean meats usually gives better results than resorting to protein shakes.
For higher level athletes, the increased demands of their training may mean they require additional nutrients. Once again, they should try to meet most of their needs through food first. If they do decide a supplement is warranted, the next step is to make sure the supplement they plan to take has been scientifically tested to prove it provides the benefits it claims. Do not waste your money or risk your career on something that has no evidence to back it up!
The informed Sport programme
If you do decide to use supplements, you can reduce your risk by checking your products on the Informed Sport website. Informed Sport batch tests supplements for banned substances and publishes the results on their website. The catch is that companies don’t necessarily have every batch of every product tested. You need to check that the batch number of any product you intend to buy has been tested. And you need to save the search, just in case there are any problems later.
Another issue is that new substances may be added to the Prohibited List at any time. A particular product may have been free of all banned substances at the time of testing. But there is a chance one of its ingredients may be added to the Prohibited List after it goes on sale. This is why you need to save the search, to show there was no intention to cheat.
The bottom line is that no supplement is completely risk free. So always think carefully before you decide to take any!
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