In Feb this year Broc Tickle, a professional motocross rider, tested positive for methylhexaneamine, a banned but legal stimulant. Broc claims he is clean, and other riders under Aldon Baker (who were also tested) returned negative tests. Essentially, this could be a case of ‘inadvertent doping’ where an athlete unintentionally ingests a banned substance through the use of another product e.g. a supplement or medical product.
Methylhexaneamine is a compound added to some products such as pre-workouts or ‘focus’ supplements to increase their effect, but supplement companies sometimes relabel it or fail to list it on the ingredients altogether. This is obviously a risk for athletes in general, especially if they are unaware of the issue of inadvertent doping. In my opinion, methylhexaneamine itself isn’t something that most people would buy intentionally, it’s unlikely than an athlete will even know what it is or think ‘I’m going to take some methylhexaneamine.’ Regarding this case, Roger DeCoster was reported to say “if you really want to increase your performance, there is stuff available that is way better than what is in there, even over the counter.” And, personally, I would agree.
Given that methylhexaneamine is a common cause of inadvertent doping and also dangerous – even attributed to some deaths – it is surprising that Aldon Baker (Broc’s trainer) reported to have not even known what methylhexaneamine is. I believe this highlights the importance of how/ where athletes obtain their nutrition advice; had Broc known or been advised about the risk of supplement contamination and therefore only used batch-tested products, then maybe his situation could have been avoided. Given that Red Bull KTM have a clause in their contract where, should a rider test positive for a substance and be barred from competition, they are required to pay back KTM all of their earnings from contracts [Roger DeCoster], this situation could obviously have devastating financial implications.
Regulations surrounding the production of supplements aren’t as tightly controlled compared to the pharmaceutical industry, which means the possibility of contamination is higher. What is more worrying is that banned substances can appear through cross-contamination during the manufacturing process. For example, if a machine is used to produce a prohibited (but legal) substance, then later used to produce a nutritional supplement, traces of the banned substance can appear in the product. Residues of prohibited substances (in amounts that would result in a positive drugs test), have been detected on machinery even three years after the production of the banned substance.
Athletes are often approached by supplement companies offering sponsorship e.g. free products or even payment, and a lot of companies claim that their products are ‘tested’ or offer a ‘doping guarantee’. But in 2013 an independent company screened 114 products such as protein powders and energy supplements, purchased from 24 European brands. Despite claims of being tested or doping free, 10% were found to contain banned substances.
Even if an athlete can prove that the product was contaminated, they are still open to a sanction. WADA revise their code every year, and as of January 2015 included much stronger sanctions for those doping ‘inadvertently’ as a consequence of supplement contamination.
I asked Ross Austen, from Informed-Sport, to comment:
“No athlete in the world wants to accidentally fail a drugs test and although Informed-Sport cannot offer 100% guarantee. Tested supplements are considerable safer than untested products. I urge all athletes and support personnel to scrutinise their supplement regime to ensure the risk of inadvertent doping is managed appropriately.”
How can you prevent this?
Ultimately the best way is to avoid supplements altogether. However due to the popularity and culture around supplements, this is unlikely. Supplements can also prove to be useful tool for athletes, for example if they require a high energy intake, the use of supplements is an efficient way to meet these needs. Supplements e.g. gels, also offer a convenient solution to energy intake during competition.
The products most at risk of contamination are fat burners, pre-workouts, herbal supplements and those promoting extreme muscle growth.
Only use products which have gone through batch testing and which you can obtain the certification, by programmes such as Informed-Sport. Record the batch numbers so that if a positive test occurs, evidence exists that you have tried to minimise the risks.
When considering a supplement, read the label and if in doubt consult anti-doping organisations or certified nutritionists for advice.
If you are using a product you like but hasn’t been batch tested, consider having it independently tested. Whilst batch tested supplements are slightly more expenive, and it is unlikely that they will contain a banned substance, it is certainly a cheaper option than losing your contract.