So today US sprinter and world 100m record holder Tyson Gay receives a 1 year ban from competition for testing positive for a steroid contained in a cream peddled by a ‘chiropractor’. Staggering as this may sound it underlines the desperate measures some elite athletes are prepared to take to make it to the top.
But if this is what the world-class guys are doing then I wonder what on earth is going on in the lower ranks (i.e. in the gym) where the fear of a positive drugs test is irrelevant and way behind the desire for bigger biceps?
The first thing to realise is that sports supplements is big business – globally the market was worth $20.7 billion in 2012 and forecast to reach $37.7 in 2019. The second is that there is only a (very) small handful of supplements out there that has some sort of scientific backing- the majority of sports supplements are no more than hype. Thirdly, good nutrition and training together with adequate rest are far more important than supplements (i.e. they ‘work’) when it comes to performance.
Finally – as Tyson Gay and others have discovered – there is no systematic regulation of supplements so the contents listed on the label may not be a true reflection of what they actually contain (however, in Tyson’s case, the label clearly stated testosterone and DHEA!) There is the risk that such supplements could be contaminated with banned substances. This is known to be the case as many athletes have been tested positive through the use of such supplements. A 2012 investigation by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) found illegal substances, such as steroids, stimulants and hormones in 84 sports supplements in the UK.
And a 2013 survey by HFL Sport Science found 10 per cent of a sample of 114 of the most popular supplements and weight loss products purchased in Europe were contaminated with steroids and/or stimulants. Some of the contaminated products even claimed to have been ‘tested by an independent laboratory’ or that they were ‘doping free’.
The World Anti-doping code contains the principle of ‘strict liability. That means that the athlete is strictly liable for any prohibited substances which are found in their bodies. Which makes it even more bizarre why Tyson Gay put his trust in ‘chiropractor’.
Whilst the risk of using a contaminated supplement will never be eliminated, should you decide to take a supplement, you can minimise the risk of inadvertent doping by looking for voluntary certifications by companies such as Informed Sport or NSF Certified for Sport (US) on the label. This indicates that the product has been independently tested for banned substances. You’ll find all registered products listed on the companies’ websites www.informed-sport.com and www.nsfsport.com.
Still interested in taking supplements? Part 2 looks at sports supplements that have some credible science behind them.
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