Special edition: Sports nutrition

Offside! ESSNA blows whistle on athletes’ doping excuses


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Sochi doping bust: German biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle (pictured) blames supplements but ESSNA says, “Athletes continue to talk tosh about contaminated supplements”
Sochi doping bust: German biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle (pictured) blames supplements but ESSNA says, “Athletes continue to talk tosh about contaminated supplements”

Related tags Sports nutrition World anti-doping agency

Europe’s sports nutrition sector today launched a stinging attack on elite athletes who blame doping infringements on contaminated sports supplements as happened multiple times at the recent Winter Olympiad in Sochi, Russia.

“Athletes continue to talk tosh about contaminated supplements,” ​said Chris Whitehouse, European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance (ESSNA) director of strategy today.

Whitehouse added: “No responsible manufacturer or brand manager wants to see contaminated product on the market, it undermines the value of the business. Furthermore, isn’t it bizarre how the ingredient detected by testing athletes is always one that would help their performance?”

“It’s time sports professionals played by the rules and stopped using sports supplements as a fig leaf to hide their illegal activities.”

Osafa Powell, the Jamaican sprinter recently handed an 18 month ban for doping is an example. He blames supplements and says he will take his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

German biathlete Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle is another classic example from Sochi. She failed a doping test for DMAA (1,3 dimethylamylamine/methylhexaneamine) but blamed a contaminated supplement.

NutraIngredients contacted her association to determine what the supplement was but an ongoing legal procedure expected to finish next month meant they would reveal nothing. In the meantime innuendo flows around the supplements sector, said Whitehouse.

“It is hard for industry to defend itself against vague and unsubstantiated allegations. Sports governing bodies and anti-doping agencies should, however, be demanding specifics from those found to have taken illegal substances. If they name specific brands, those brands can sue and seek punitive damages.”

In lieu of such specifics most athletic bodies take the easy stance of warning athletes off supplements – somewhat of a cop-out when stats show nearly all elite atletes take one supplement or another to boost their health and performance. The German Athletics Federation told us that was the case there.


And so while ‘Responsible manufacturers’ may engage in top-line QC ad Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and participate in programmes like the LGC-owned Informed-Sport’s contaminant testing service that runs out of the UK but has an international focus,rogue players – both manufacturers and sports folk – continue to sully the sector.

Terence O'Rorke, business sector manager at Informed-Sport, praised the scheme that has 225 products on its books, with every batch tested in LGC’s labs to make the list.

Since 2008 when it began, not one product on its books has been implicated in a doping case, even as UK Anti-Doping told us 44% of 2012 UK doping cases were blamed on “inadvertent consumption of supplements.”

“It has become the default position for caught athletes to blame contaminated supplements so we hope Informed-Sport is making a difference to that.

"But it is old-fashioned to tell athletes not to take supplements when so many of them take them anyway – what they need is education and appropriate advice.”

"We work closely with anti-doping agencies like WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and others but we also recognise that contamination remains a big problem.”


Whitehouse said his group that includes 43 sports nutrition stakeholders was upping its game in the fight against contamination.

ESSNA is not yet in a position to undertake its own testing of products, so our enforcement activity is aimed directly at cowboy companies who either openly market illegal ingredients or make unlawful claims for their products.

“We take action against such businesses on a regular basis, informing enforcement authorities around Europe when it is clear that a law has been broken. We will continue to do so.”

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Close check on supplements

Posted by Jorge Gonzales,

I hear alot about doping athletics, and I dont think that all caught athletics with doping charges had intentionally consumed the supplement with banned ingredients. There are supplements that are not banned and thus used by athlets all over the world. But the contamination in these supplements with illegal banned ingredients is major concern for sports organisation. So in my opinion there should be close check for these type of products.

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Contamination of supplements

Posted by Louise Burke,

While I don't believe that doping athletes tell the truth when they are caught, it is also not helpful to state that supplement contamination is "tosh" or that it is too bizarre that the contaminants that become problematic to athletes are performance enhancing. Being performance enhancing is one of the three criteria used by WADA to place a substance on its banned list. There may well be other non-performance enhancing contaminants in a supplement, but these do not become the focus of doping tests or doping cases. The challenge of banned substances in supplements - whether declared ingredients or contaminants - requires a coordinated effort and understanding by supplement manufacturers, 3rd party auditing programs such as the one provided by HFL, athletes and the people who educate them. Caustic comments about any of these parties isn't like to assist the situation.

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