Federal regulators, sports authorites, and school committees all warn athletes and consumers against the dangers of taking tainted supplements. These tainted products are found in everything from muscle builders to weight loss supplements to energy drinks. Let's discuss why it's imperative that swimmers recognize and therefore avoid taking tainted supplements.
Why do elite athletes supplement?
It's the small things that make the difference. The difference between getting a scholarship, or getting a gold medal is usually fractions of a second. Elite athletes realize this, and they know that what you put in your body will make that difference. Given their level, frequency and intensity of training, swimmers, like most elite athletes, supplement because they know it's almost impossible to get their elevated nutritional needs through conventional foods alone. The problem comes in when athletes go out an purchase supplements that have not been tested. This increases the chances that an athlete might purchase a tained supplement.
Who is at fault?
With the plethora of fraudulent products being marketed to athletes, it's easy to point the finger at the companies that produce tainted supplements, or even the coaches or trainers that recommend them. But when it comes down to it, it's the athlete who is responsible and will ultimaltey suffer the consiquences if they consume a tainted supplement. There's been numerous cases in the last few years of various athletes that have become the victim of faulty ingredients and testing procedures.
In our own sport, swimmers Kicker Vencill and Jessica Hardy have experienced the horrid consequences of taking tainted products, and there's cases in almost every sport, including soccer's Edgar Davids and cycling's Flavia Oliveira. Governing authorities like the IOC and FINA fault the athlete and don't allow ignorance as an excuse. Ultimately the fault is with you since "sport drug-testing programs hold athletes strictly liable for any prohibited substance that is found during a drug test" (Banned Substances Control Group, 2016)1.
What can happen?
The main components of athletic success are genetics, superior coaching and training, mental preparation, rest and nutrition. When swimmers feel like they are lacking in one of these areas, Knowledgable athletes know that having sufficient nutrient intake is critical not just for athletic performance, but for avoiding illness and injury so they often reach for supplements to fill in the nutritional gaps.
But be careful because there are potentially huge consequences.
First, there are the physiological reactions that may take place when ingesting tainted supplements. Some companies may mix and modify hormones, steroids, and other ingredients which in some cases have caused liver damage, prostate problems, heart disease, and kidney failure. With the supplement industry having loose regulations, it's important to pay attention to what you're taking since manufacturing techniques aren't held to the same standards and vary greatly. Even internationally respected companies have had problems with tainted ingredients contaminating their products.
Second, and just as debilitating in its own way, are the consequences of testing positive and being penalized by your sport authority. Athletes who are tested positive for tainted ingredients face fines, loss of scholarships, public questioning, humiliation, and they usually lose the opportunity to compete in their dream events. This is devastating, heartbreaking for swimmers who have spent their entire lives training for these important competitions.
How do I avoid tainted supplements?
With the stakes so high, it's important for athletes to be extra vigilant about what they are eating and drinking as part of their nutrition plan. But there are some ways to ensure that you're not buying products from a company who is using questionable ingredients and shoddy manufacturing processes. Look for certified, quality seals and third party approval from anti-doping testing agencies like the Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG).
P2Life's is one such company that takes testing extremely seriously. P2Life goes to the rare extreme of having EVERY batch of it’s performance range of products tested and certified by the BSCG who certifies them free of these banned tainted substances.
Also, if you are going to shop for supplements on the market, beware of phrases and claims like:
- legal alternative to anabolic steroids
- words like "cure-all" and "totally safe"
- anything that seems exagerrated or unrealistic
- products that claim to be an alternative to prescription drugs
- ingredients that are "fast-acting" or show "immediate results"
In closing, it is important to gain your competitive edge through eating correctly and maintaining good health, not through popping pills. If you decide to supplement your nutritional food plan, use only products that have been certified, tested, and proven to provide great results without any adverse effects.