Know what’s banned and what’s not

If athletes have not got the message that they are exclusively responsible, they must be from a different planet or they have intentionally cheated and are now using the food supplements as an escape strategy for their cheating.

Dope testing today has become far more organised and random, and it is not only done during competitions, but in the off season, too.   -  AFP

Every day when I check into my nutrition clinic, the first thing I do is to open up the WADA website.

WADA is the World Anti-Doping Agency, the agency that tests and catches athletes who knowingly or unknowingly take performance-enhancing substances that are banned. Identifying and banning these substances is to ensure a level playing field. Many famous athletes have taken banned substances either by design or by mistake. Argentinian legend Diego Maradona tested for five types of ephedrine. When questioned, he indicated he had taken it for a mild allergy. Experts countered saying that over-the-counter medications do not have cocktail of all of those five versions of ephedrine together.

Scientists discovered that ephedrine is an excellent substance to help in weight loss. In fact, many products in the 1990s and early 2000s used in weight loss had hormones, prohormones and stimulants that were banned substances. A study conducted by the International Olympic Community headed by Dr Wilhelm of the German Sports University in Cologne found that of around 600 supplements that were tested from 13 countries 15 percent contained banned substances.

As a nutritionist, it is very important in a sports nutrition programme to guide athletes on their foods, their supplements and the medicines that are consumed. Normal food will never test positive, even though it may have one-millionth of a gram’s quantity of a performance-enhancing substance. For example, spinach is known to contain a certain hormone in one-millionth of a quantity that actually boost muscles, which is why the cartoon Popeye was depicted as eating a lot of spinach, which would instantly boost his muscle power.

Everyone knows that there is a huge difference between foods that enhance performance and taking drugs that enhance performance. Drugs that enhance performance are banned. Food is safer. Let’s face it, if you know you are cheating, you will get caught at some point. Dope testing today has become far more organised and random, and it is not only done during competitions, but in the off season, too.

It is mandatory, therefore, for any and every athlete to work with their medical support staff, be it the sports medicine doctor, physiotherapist, nutritionist or exercise physiologist of the team. These individuals will definitely have sufficient knowledge to understand and read the labels of the products being consumed. As a sports nutritionist, I am constantly evaluating the nutrition supplements that are recommended by our Qua Nutrition Clinics. In over two decades, our athletes have never tested positive for drugs. Clean athletes that believe in the concept of fair play are rigorous about researching products and recommendations based on experts’ advice.

In the early 2000s, there was a product called Jack 3D that had a banned substance called DMAA (dimethylamylamine). A lot of swimmers had come and asked us if they can take this product. I gave a thumbs down and said it’s dangerous. However, the nexus of unscrupulous dealers who imported products from abroad wanted to dispose off the stocks very quickly, and since the initial respondents who used the products came back with very positive reviews, there was an immediate scramble to buy the product and consume it for immediate competition. Unfortunately, many athletes turned up positive in their tests and were banned.

Athletes need to be educated about the ingredients on the label. As a nutritionist, I refer to two resources on the Internet that enable a better selection of products. They are the informed choice group and the banned substances group. They globally check batch-wise production of supplements and ensure that they are free of banned substances.

Athletes should not consume supplements without strict guidance and the advice of sports nutritionists. Even then, any supplement taken alone will not enhance performance without the right dietary guidelines. The true nature of your performance lies in the proper consumption of foods in a planned and phased manner that calls for a specific focus on proteins and fats and metabolic balance and calorie balance.

Cricketer Prithvi Shaw tested positive after consuming cough medicine. Many athletes need medicines when sick. Taking any medication needs extreme caution. You can easily test positive. The International Olympic Committee is clear that athletes are responsible for what goes into their bodies.

Even as a nutritionist, when I advise my athletes, I put a disclaimer saying that I cannot guarantee the safety of the supplement or medicine consumed. If we find a good supplement that is not on the banned list, it is prescribed to athletes as part of their sports diet. Athletes source this product from local dealers who does not know the manufacturing source of the product. These could be counterfeit products from spurious industries where labels and containers are duplicated to gimmick the originals. The raw materials used are of a poorer quality or may be contaminated with performance-enhancing drugs. The unknowing end-consumer will be conned into believing this product is safe.

Whenever I hear of an athlete testing positive, the following thoughts rumble in my head:

1. The athlete has intentionally cheated.

2. The athlete has been conned into using a counterfeit product.

3. The athlete has taken a product without the knowledge of the ingredients in it.

4. The athlete is taking a medication without any focus or any learning about the product with the assumption that he or she will not be tested.

If athletes have not got the message that they are exclusively responsible, they must be from a different planet or they have intentionally cheated and are now using the food supplements as an escape strategy for their cheating. My message to all athletes is don’t use banned substances that can be found in supplements and medicines. Protect yourself by knowing what’s banned and what’s not. Finally, surround yourself with a good support team to guide you.

If any athletes need their medicines or supplements checked, you can contact me at www.ryanfernando.in. Read the list of banned substances.