Precision Nutrition Blog

The reality of tainted nutritional supplements

by John Berardi, Ph.D.

Nowadays when we hear about elite athletes testing positive for banned substances, we brace ourselves for the denials, we prepare ourselves for shifting blame – you know, the faulty testing protocols, or the contaminated supplements.

And, rightfully, we’re skeptical.  We assume that testing positive means cheating.  That these supplement stories are tall tales put in place to cast doubt.  So that cheaters can pull one over on juries, and on the public.

Could your supplements be tainted?

But what if some of the convicted cheaters didn’t cheat?  What if it was a nutritional supplement?  Sound far-fetched?  Well one glance at this information below might change your mind.

2001 Study

In 2001, over 630 nutritional supplements, purchased online and at local supplement stores, were tested for banned substances.  Over 25% of them were contaminated – either intentionally or unintentionally.

2005 Study

In 2005 a follow up study looked at another 60 supplements, purchased in the same way as those above.  Again, over 22% of them contained banned substances.

2006 Olympics

In 2006, the entire Greek Olympic Weightlifting team was banned from the Summer Olympic Games because one of their supplement sponsors inadvertently supplied them with tainted supplements.

Think this couldn’t happen to you? Well, that’s what my good friend, Serge Depres, a top bobsleigh pilot for team Canada thought when he wandered into a local (and well-known) sports nutrition store.

As a result of that fateful trip, Serge was suspended from competition for 2 years because he took a BCAA supplement and a HMB supplement that were actually BOTH tainted with anabolic steroids.

I know, I know. Some of you are still skeptical.  He must have done something wrong.

But let me assure you.  I saw the lab results with my own eyes.  I even testified at both of his hearings.  Serge never intended to “cheat.”  And he certainly didn’t deserve a 2 year ban.  But that’s exactly what he got.  For taking BCAAs and HMB, two supplements most sports nutritionists frequently recommend.

The Clean Sport Initiative

Recently, a group was formed in Canada called the The Clean Sport Initiative™.  Their mission?

  • To take action against accidental doping
  • To raise awareness of the problem
  • To disseminate relevant information
  • To provide possible solutions to protect athletes

As a fairly well-known sports nutrition coach, I was asked to speak at their first ever press conference in Toronto.  And in the videos below, you can not only hear my thoughts on this issue, but the thoughts of a host of other interesting and informed speakers including:

  • Scott Russell – well-known Canadian sports broadcaster and TV personality
  • Serge Despres – Olympic athlete victimized by tainted supplements
  • Ed Wyszumiala – general manager of the NSF dietary supplement certification program
  • Dave Ellis – high performance director of the Canadian Ski Cross Team

If you’re an athlete that uses supplements – or even if you’re a recreational exerciser that uses supplements – you’ll definitely want to check out the videos below.  It’s time we all learned how to protect ourselves from purchasing and using tainted supplements.

Scott Russell – Canadian Journalist and Media Personality
Introduction to The Clean Sport Initiative

Serge Depres – Canadian Bobsleigh Pilot
The Face of Accidental Doping and Tainted Supplements

Scott Russel Introduces John Berardi

John Berardi – High Performance Nutrition Coach
Tainted Supplements – What Must Be Done

Scott Russel Introduces Ed Wyszumiala

Ed Wyszumiala – NSF Certified For Sport Program
How The NSF Program is Helping

Scott Russel Introduces Dave Ellis

Dave Ellis – High Performance Director – Canadian Ski Cross
His Athletes and Preventing Positive Tests

Special notes:

The NSF Program

In these videos above, the NSF program is referenced extensively as it’s the strictest supplement certification standard currently available.  However, only very few products are actually certified by the NSF.  And many products that athletes might want to take haven’t yet been looked at by the NSF.

(For a complete listing of NSF certified products, click here).

The HFL Program

We here at PN we also recommend certain products that have been subjected to HFL testing.  This testing, still quite rigorous,  has been applied to hundreds more supplements so their list is more extensive and their products are more readily available.

(For a complete listing of HFL certified products, click here).

PN Recommended Supplements

Of course, just because a supplement is certified clean, doesn’t mean it’s useful.  To this end, for more information on the supplements we here at Precision Nutrition actually recommend, check out this list, taking special note of the supplements that have been tested free of banned substances.

And remember, just knowing which supplements are clean doesn’t help you formulate a supplement plan.  For more on desiging the right nutrition and supplement plan for you, pick up a copy of the Precision Nutrition System, everything you need to know, with results 100% guaranteed.

Learn more

To learn more about making important improvements to your nutrition and exercise program, check out the following 5-day video courses.

They’re probably better than 90% of the seminars we’ve ever attended on the subjects of exercise and nutrition (and probably better than a few we’ve given ourselves, too).

The best part? They’re totally free.

To check out the free courses, just click one of the links below.