Editor's Blog

‘Play it again, Sochi’: DMAA food supplements stimulate ongoing Olympic dopiness


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German biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle: Banned for DMAA. She blames contaminated supplements...
German biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle: Banned for DMAA. She blames contaminated supplements...

Related tags Food supplements World anti-doping agency

For 12 days the 22nd Winter Olympiad in Sochi, Russia, had escaped the scourge of doping. It may not have escaped the scourge of homophobic ranting from its paragon-of-progress president, Vladimir Putin, but it had been drug-free.

Maybe the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) 64% increase in pre-competition and out-of-competition testing was actually deterring athletes from engaging in doping practices. Nope…

The seal was broken on Friday when a German biathlete was busted for the banned stimulant DMAA (1,3 dimethylamylamine / methylhexaneamine).

That kinda opened the floodgates with five more doping positives coming to light over the weekend, bringing the total to six, with fingered athletes trotting out the old (but rarely successful) defence that their substance violation was not their fault but that of the contaminated food supplements they imbibed. 

The defence fails because under the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code athletes are responsible for all bodily inputs, even contaminated foods or food supplements. 

So, er, well, yawn. Play it again, Sochi…

Problem is this kind of scapegoating, however misplaced, can cause public image problems for the food supplements industry when athletes are blaming dodgy supplements and implying they cannot be trusted. And that’s not just products that may contain a banned substance like DMAA, or sports nutrition products. It potentially taints all food supplements.

But let’s be clear here: These kinds of issues have absolutely nothing to do with the mainstream food supplements industry. There will always be rogue players with criminal intent in this and any other industry. There will always be contaminated products while such rogue players exist.

And there will always be cheating, doped up athletes who blame supplements when their urine and blood tests come back the wrong colour from the testing lab. And when those athletes point the finger at food supplements maybe the mainstream sector needs to be more proactive in these situations to hammer the point that its products are well-tested, well-regulated and safe.

DMAA encore

The current cases do raise questions about DMAA – the pre-workout stimulant that has been largely banned around the world over sourcing and safety concerns – and which has provoked 100s of doping bans across multiple sports and disciplines since being added to WADA’s prohibited list in 2010.


Texas-based USPLabs manufactured the most high-profile DMAA product – Jack3D - but it has long been banned and removed from market so where did the German biathlete, Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle, get hers from? Oh sorry, since she has no idea how it got into her system, I mean, where could it possibly have come from?

Proclaiming her innocence she said she is living through the, "worst nightmare you can imagine"​ even though her national association had taken a conservative line and warned its athletes not to trust ANY food supplements before and during the Games.

Latvian men's ice hockey player Vitalijs Pavlovs also tested positive for DMAA along with Italian bobsledder William Frullani.

The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) didn’t have much sympathy for Frullani in throwing him out of the Games, stating he had, "at best been extremely silly".

Yep. Just as silly as the premise of blaming the food supplements industry for an illicit trade in banned substances to fuel elite athletes chasing a demented Olympic or sporting dream. Look to the machinations of that dream for the real source of this problem and any hope of making it go away.

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DMAA-Tainted Products? Yeah right.

Posted by Rich,

There are numerous brands that are specifically made for and target elite athletes (EPIQ, Klean Athlete etc.). These brands are specifically formulated to be effective and banned substance free from a WADA standpoint, and are tested/guaranteed to ensure this. This isn't the old days where the only effective supplements available were made by rinky-dink companies working out of someone's garage. Many supplement companies are made by or owned by multi-billion dollar corporations. These companies are not tainting their products with DMAA or other banned substances. The financial risk is too great.

Sure there are always sketchy brands, and spiking dietary supplements with drugs has gone on for years (ie: Craze) - but these are brands targeted at insecure teenage boys, and ultimately a few minutes of research by a serious athlete can weed these out.

Cheaters blaming supplements for getting busted has become oldest excuse in the book, but for any athlete who is serious about competing clean - there so many options that it's no surprise that nobody is buying this excuse any longer.

Tyson Gay owned up to his error, other athletes need to take a page from his book and just admit they took a shot and failed.

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40+ years in the industry

Posted by John Williams,

You seemingly mock the athlete, which I feel is rather presumptous and misguided. I have been in the sports nutrition industry since its inception have formulated and sold hundreds of performance products; sponsored hundreds of amateur and professional athletes from all sports and levels, including aa top cycling team, record-setting Raceacross America racers, and can attest to the fact that probably the majority of the athletes trust their trainers, strength coaches and sponsors to be giving them a clean deal.

I can also attest and would swear to the fact that there are numerous products on both the sports and general markets that are a disaster when analyzed to the label. There are also a host of products that are knowingly formulated with illegal or questionable ingredients and there are numerous manufacturers happy to put such products together.

In closing, and based on my experience with the German government and how they handle their athletes (they tested every supplement we gave one of their world-class runners) I believe that the young lady took the DMAA unknowingly, as have many athletes.

Thank you

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Editorial & Comment

Posted by Shane Starling,

Dear VMS Researcher,

Thanks for your comment. I take your point that the piece was not a straight news story but it was not meant to be. It was flagged as an 'Editor's Blog' and was written in the style of an opinion piece.

I am glad you enjoy NutraIngredients for the 'straight editorial' work we do on most stories, most days, but there is a place in any good publication for a variety of voices and tones and perspectives.

Hence a piece like this. If the majority of the work was done in this style then we would have cause for concern.

But it's not like that.

I hope you continue to enjoy the coverage here.

Kind regards,

Shane Starling
Senior editor

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