Drug Testing in Professional Sports

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Drug Testing in Professional Sports

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Editorial By Dr. Vince Kreipke

Dr. Vince Kreipke

Competition requires an edge. Every athlete knows this and as they continue to explore various ways to achieve that edge, there is one method that seems to continue to grow in popularity: the use of dietary supplements. And for good reason. It is well documented that dietary supplementation significantly helps almost every aspect of athletic performance.

But despite these clear advantages, there is a caveat. Athletes cannot simply ingest anything they want under the guise of “dietary supplement”. There are still certain rules that must be followed in order to maintain a fair playing field.

Each sporting organization has a set of rules that are set forth to ensure that this level playing field remains protected. When it comes to performance enhancing substances, many sports (including all NCAA Collegiate sports, the Olympics, professional athletics and many “natural” barbell and physique sports) follow what is most commonly referred to as the “WADA List”. Generally speaking, this list is composed by the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) of various prohibited substances and methodologies that created a distinct unfair advantage in competition. 

Drug testing

When specifically looking at compounds that can be found in the blood (either from ingestion or injection), it is an extensive list that is composed of substances that 1) are harmful to the individual, 2) give an unfair competitive advantage, 3) both, or 4) are a by-product of the metabolism of substances that classify as one or two. 

Athletes that compete in regulated sports are often individually tested (either through urine or blood sampling) for these compounds. It should be noted that the penalty for testing positive for one of these compounds is quite costly. Individuals can be banned from competition, stripped of championships and medals, and have their reputations ruined. 

Sadly, avoiding these substances and their potential negative consequences is not as easy as you might think. Recently, a literature review published inBiomed Research International investigated studies examining undeclared ingredients found in supplements. Of the 3,132 supplements that were examined, 875 were found to contain undeclared substances that caused a risk for ingesting one or more of these banned substances. That is 28%!!

What is even more worrisome is this review article is not the first publication to call attention to the possibility of contamination. In 2004, astudy out of Cologne, Germany demonstrated that of the 634 supplements analyzed, 94 (roughly 15%) tested positive for anabolic androgenic steroids not declared on the label.

Considering that a recentreport has shown that there has been a substantial rise in the use of dietary supplements among athletes. These numbers are cause for alarm. 

Drug testing

Luckily, there are agencies that are taking extensive measures to help protect athletes. International testing programs like Banned Substance Control Group, Informed Sport, Informed Choice, and NSF International Certified for Sport have set up labs around the world that test dietary supplements to make sure 1) the supplement has the ingredients declared on the label and 2) does not contain substances found on the WADA list.

It should be noted that these programs are voluntary. Supplement companies have to willingly subject their products to these programs, showing their commitment to the purity of competition.

There are two main ways to show that a product has been tested. First, there is normally a testing logo on the container that will tell you which group has tested the product. Second, these products can often be on the testing group’s website. This is normally taken one step further. Batch or lot numbers will also be displayed on the website. A lot or batch number is the special number that helps identify specific details about an individual product, like the date it was produced. Together, these steps help athletes and coaches know that the products they are taking are free of risky contaminants.

Sport is a sacred endeavor and should be protected as such. Regulating competition through elaborate testing helps to ensure its purity. Third party testing not only protects the realm of play. It helps protect those in the arena.

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