PUMP ME UP: IS YOUR SUPPLEMENT LEGAL?

PUMP, SHREDD, CRZY STRONG, T BOOST, does this sound like your supplement?  If so, it may not be legal in the ADFPF. The business of dietary supplements and sports nutrition products is huge and big money. The industry is projected to exceed $45 billion by 2022. Athletes take supplements for many reasons, including improving performance, losing weight, and enhancing recovery.

While some supplements do improve athletic performance, many contain illegal and   banned substances by WADA and ADFPF standards. Legal supplements that have medical evidence (subject of another article) of improving performance include creatine, caffeine (but there are limits), HMB, beetroot, and protein powder. The challenge has always been to assure that the supplement you are using is not only effective but also safe and legal.

While many drugs are regulated by the FDA, it currently doesn’t require that supplements be proven safe or effective before they enter the market. However, this is under reconsideration. A supplement must be proven dangerous before it can be removed from the market and many are harmful to your health.  

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) defines dietary supplements as “vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, other dietary substances, and any concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or a combination of any of these ingredients.”

Too many sports supplements contain banned substances that are “hidden” in the product or mislabeled.  Many companies fail to follow good manufacturing procedures (GMP), which may leave their products contaminated and unsafe.

Sports supplement products make claims that their products offer benefits that nobody else can match. But this doesn’t mean they are safe or legal. Athletes may unknowingly consume products containing varying quantities of banned substances, such as anabolic steroids, designer drugs, amphetamines, and stimulants. The FDA has found hundreds of adulterated supplements, but resources are limited to do anything about it.

So how do you determine whether your pre-workout or recovery formula is safe? Well, sorry to say, it’s up to you! Third party certification programs run by private organizations can help. Among them:

NSF:  This is the gold standard program and used by MLB, MLBPA, NFL and NFLPA. Look for the logo.

Informed Choice tests finished products at different levels.  They also showed that even trace amounts of steroids can result in a positive drug test.

USDA: has some general guidelines and information regarding supplements and nutrition.

Consumerlab: A subscription site that independently evaluates supplements.

Labdoor: Another independent site that rates various supplements for quality and value.

So what should you do to check out your product?   Well the first thing is to read the label carefully including the list of ingredients:

  1. Avoid if the label lists WADA-prohibited substances.  And here is the newest WADA list.
  2. Avoid if it contains ingredients ending in -ol, -diol or -stene, or the ingredient contains several numbers, which indicate possible steroids, designer drugs or stimulants.
  3. Avoid supplements made by a company that sells products containing prohibited substances, products for bodybuilding, weight loss, pre-workout/energy or sexual enhancement.  Their products may have low levels of cross-contamination which may be enough to be illegal.
  4. Avoid “Proprietary blends”—if you see this, DO NOT TAKE!  It’s impossible to know the amounts of individual ingredients, and the likelihood of a prohibited substance is high.
  5. Think twice about complicated products with lots of ingredients or/and unfamiliar chemical names. See something you don’t know?  Check it out at the Global DRO.
  6. Consider where it was manufactured. China is well known for adulterated and misbranded products that may not be what they claim, or contain undisclosed additives, or worse, including harmful things like lead.
  7. Look for a disclaimer giving a long list of potential side-effects.  This likely means there is some type of drug activity in the product, and it often contains an illegal stimulant.
  8. Don’t be fooled if the product claims to be “natural” or derived from natural products. So is cocaine.
  9. Don’t assume herbal blend products are drug free. Herbs may contain compounds that have pharmaceutical activity. In fact, many of our drugs in current use were discovered in plants.

There are NO guarantees for an untested product. We have all seen college level players taking an off the shelf supplement and testing positive for drug use. This has happened at ADFPF meets as well. Everyone is surprised, shocked and disappointed, but unfortunately its still banned and you will be disqualified. Depending on the substance, this may incur a lifetime ban.  If the supplement is not NSF or otherwise certified, you are AT RISK!  Remember the FDA doesn’t have to test products for drugs, and even trace amounts of restricted substances may show up in drug tests. An athlete may be extremely careful and still test positive for a prohibited substance or fall victim to negative health effects of a product.  

The ultimate responsibility for being drug-free for competition is yours.  Now Pump me up!

Richard D. Hammer, MD


Dr Hammer,

I have one question. You imply there are some limits to allowable use of caffeine – what is that?  I have read articles showing the ergogenic benefit of 200-400 mg of caffeine, and I have taken that much from time to time.  Now I wonder if that’s allowed.  Could you clarify that for me?

Robert White

Robert,

Currently Caffeine is on the monitoring program of WADA for 2017.  It was previously illegal but was removed in 2003.  It is now under watch again this year, with some expectations that it may become illegal at certain limits.  The prior limit was 12 mcg/ml. 
Currently NCAA limits caffeine to less than 15 mcg/ml for college athletes.  There is an opinion WADA may adopt this level as being illegal and performance enhancing.    This is roughly six to eight cups of coffee ingested two to three hours before a competition. 
So depending on whether you are a slow or fast metabolizer of caffeine (which can be determined by genetic tests) and other individual variables,  300mg caffeine could put you over the edge.   So that pre workout containing 150-200mg may be fine, but a double dose may pass the limit.  
However, currently you are ok, as WADA is till in the Monitoring phase, and no final word until after September when they will make a decision.  I suspect they will set a limit similar to NCAA.
Keep in mind TOO MUCH caffeine, can actually be detrimental to performance.  So like everything else, there is a sweet spot that may vary among individuals.
Best regards,
Richard Hammer