The Fear of Athletic Supplement Contamination

Stop before you drink that protein shake.

According to the study from Dec 2007 commissioned by Informed-Choice, approximately 25% of supplements could be contaminated. According to the report, which can be found here (PDF):

Fifty-eight supplement samples were purchased from popular retail outlets and Internet sites in the United States and sent to HFL (Horseracing Forensic Laboratory), the world’s most experienced anti-doping lab in the field of supplement testing, for analysis.

Twenty-five percent of the samples showed the presence of steroid contamination while 11 percent showed the existence of stimulants.

Samples were analyzed using a validated and ISO 17025-accredited method developed specifically for the qualitative analysis of supplements and used to detect the presence of low levels of steroid and stimulant contaminants that are considered prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

In 2002, UK Sport’s “Nandrolone Progress Report” showed that 94 out of 634 samples from non-hormonal dietary supplements tested last year in Cologne were found to contain anabolic-androgenic steroids not listed on the label.

If you recall, there were a rash of positive Nandrolone tests between 1999-2001.

Some of those athletes included American Bobsledder Pavle Jovanovic (2001) and shot-putter C. J. Hunter (2000). Jovanovic’s positive test came from Nitro Tech, a popular nutritional supplement he purchased from a well known General Nutrition Centers (GNC).

On the British side, the 1988 Olympic Silver medalist and 1992 Olympic Gold medalist Lindford Christie was found guilty of using the performance enhancing drug Nandrolone. His claim was the drugs were introduced to his system by taking legal nutritional supplements. Other British athletes, Doug Walker, Gary Cadogan and sprinter Mark Richardson (who later won his appeal).

From the IAAF 2nd International Consensus Conference on “Nutrition for Athletics“ held in Monaco from April 18-20, 2007.

Athletes should be warned against indiscriminate use of supplements. The risk of contamination of supplements with substances that are on the WADA list is very real.

Some dishonest producers put substances like ephedrine in their supplements to make it work. Other supplements are cross-contaminated because doping substances have been produced in the same production line.

3 Examples from 2008

From Bobsledders to Swimmers to 400 meter Hurdlers….

Canadian Bobsledder Serge Despres tested positive for Nadrolone on Feb 28, 2008.

“The positive test was caused by a contaminated supplement I was taking during the past summer and I’m here to state I am not a cheater”, claimed Despres.

Ironically, the supplement he bought in a local health-food store was recommended by his team’s dietitian!

The bobsledder said tests showed he had 2.9 nanograms per millimeter of nandrolone in his system, compared to the legal limit of 2.0 naturally produced by the human body.

American swimmer Jessica Hardy tested positive for the stimulant clenbuterol during the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials. She claims the banned substance came from the over-the-counter supplements she was taking.

Even Greek hurdler Fani Halkia, the women’s 400m hurdles at the 2004 Athens Olympics Gold medallist, blamed contaminated supplements for her positive drug test for the banned substance methyltrienolone during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

“I’m shocked—I have undergone more testing than anyone else,” Halkia told Greek reporters, after news of her failed drug. “The first thing I thought of doing was to give all the nutritional supplements I have consumed, my vitamins, for testing.”

The above examples are only 3 from 2008. I could go on.

In all, over 45 athletes were either banned from participating in the 2008 Olympic Games or have been disqualified for failed drug tests. Okay, some were real cheaters, but some who tested positive claimed the culprit was supplement contamination.

It’s All about Credibility

To help boost supplement industry credibility in the sports world and convince athletes that supplements are safe and do not contain banned substances, several organizations have created third-party testing and certification programs for sports supplements.

Like the HFL, NSF International offers the Athletic Banned Substances Certification Program (also known as Certified for Sport program). The program, which focuses primarily on sports supplement manufacturing and supply sourcing, was designed to protect against product adulteration, to verify label claims and to screen for banned substances – which may include stimulants, steroids or beta blockers.

In January 2004, WADA assumed responsibility for the accreditation of laboratories for doping control analysis. There are currently 34 WADA-accredited laboratories around the world, and only 3 exists in North America.

Final Thoughts – A Better Idea

I have a simple solution for this mess. Make sure you buy supplements from companies that do not sell ANY type of products that are on the banned list. This way, any chance of cross-contamination from the assembly line is minimized.

My personal recommendation is the company EnergyFirst. is proud to announce its partnership for a clean, drug-free sport with EnergyFirst. Some of their top products include:

  • Whey Protein (and pure whey protein isolate)
  • Omega 3 Fish Oils with the highest concentration of long-chain essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA.
  • GREENERGY – 5 servings of rich vegetables, nutrients, and minerals – in ONE small scoop.

Why GREENERGY? If you recall the Raymond Francis podcast, todays fruits and vegetables are almost 75% depleted of their nutrients and minerals compared to 50 years ago. Eating healthy may not be a problem when training at home, but when you are on the road, then it simply makes sense to pack your essentials with you.

As long as they are free of contamination!

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee