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The War on Doping

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Positive Test - CrossFit’s War on Doping and the Realities of Nutritional Supplementation

Chris Chapman, Director of Strength Science, NEXUS

Last year saw the first high profile casualty in CrossFit’s fight against performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). 2017 CrossFit Games 3rd place finisher Ricky Gerard had a positive test and was subsequently stripped of his medal and banned from competition for four years. We aren’t even at the Games yet this year, and 2018 is already showing the drug testing program is doing its job with last week’s announcement of athletes in breach of the drug policy. As stated, there will be more sanctions to come as they proceed through the appeals process. One individual not yet officially on the list has publicly announced her positive test and accepted ownership of the violation. Laura Hosier is part of the East Woodbridge team that came 3rd at East Regionals and was slated to attend the CrossFit Games. Due to her infraction, the whole team is disqualified from competing. She believes it came from an over the counter pre-workout supplement that was found to have a prohibited substance in it. While drug testing is still in its infancy in the sport of fitness, this case highlights an all too familiar problem in the Olympic and NCAA sporting world: inadvertent positive test due to over-the-counter nutritional supplementation. It is evident that CrossFit is trying to squash any doping to keep the sport and image as clean as possible, which means now more than ever athletes need to go the extra mile to make sure they play within the rules.


While supplementation isn’t my primary job role as a strength coach and sports scientist,  I have spent much time in and around this space. I wrote my undergraduate thesis in a world leading nutritional physiology lab, I worked side-by-side on numerous athlete support teams with registered dietitians, holistic nutritionists and naturopathic doctors, and even worked as a doping control chaperone when I was a university athletic therapist (no, the awkwardness of watching people urinate never goes away). However, more important than all that, I had a duty of care and always exercised due diligence as a coach to never put my athletes at risk or harm, nor in a position that would jeopardize their career. 

Whether or not you agree with the rules as currently enforced is another debate altogether, but they exist, and competitors must stay within the confines to avoid the consequences. Youth athletes have the excuse of not knowing any better, and need to be properly educated on this matter so they can make the best decisions possible when the situation arises (because it undoubtedly will at some point in their sporting career). When I worked as a high school strength coach, I quickly realized I was the only person within their circle of influence with the knowledge and respect to properly educate them on the topic. The resources exist, but similar to CrossFit the exposure, availability and systemic education still needs to improve in order to do doping education justice at this level.

On the other hand, this was not an issue at all when I worked as an Olympic strength coach preparing athletes for international competition. One of the most significant differences at this level is that all of the resources and information were readily available, and in many cases mandated through recurring education sessions and online courses. This was in the best interest of athlete, as the consequences of a positive test at this level of competition are far greater than high school sport. For these athletes whose entire living can depend on their ability to compete, a single doping infraction could obliterate their career and subsequent lifetime earning capacity to zero in the blink of an eye. As a member of the support staff, it would also tarnish my name and I would lose potential opportunities down the road through association and blacklisting. Being uninformed was not an option at this level. However, given drug testing is still relatively new to CrossFit, the resources to help athletes and teams are scarce at this time, so individual athletes must take the onus on themselves to be informed to best protect themselves.

Unfortunately as is the case with Hosier, there have been plenty of examples of inadvertent doping infractions across many other sports historically. This occurs when an athlete unknowingly ingests a prohibited substance, either by being uninformed or ignorant of what they are putting in their body. For CrossFit athletes, especially those striving to compete in the Games, there are resources available to help make the most educated decisions possible to both stay healthy and stay within the rules of the sport. First of all, here is a summary of the specific changes CrossFit HQ has made to the drug testing program for this year, and here is the actual CrossFit drug testing policy in full. While the policy defines the categories and types of substances that are banned, a complete list of specifics that fall under each category is on WADA’s prohibited list. For a substance to make its way onto this list it must satisfy two of the following three criteria:

  1. It has the potential to enhance or enhances sports performance;
  2. It represents an actual or potential health risk to the Athlete;
  3. It violates the spirit of sport (definition found in the sports code/rules).

It is your responsibility as a competing athlete to make sure you are as informed as possible. Part of this means making sure that the supplements and other nutritional products you are ingesting do not contain any ingredients on the list. At face value, this may seem simple, but depending on the country you live in, the nutritional supplement industry may not be bound by the same rules as the food industry. They may be allowed to get away with shoddy labelling and not be required to label every ingredient. Even further, it is possible they may purposefully spike the supplement with a prohibited substance, so it produces better  results for the consumer. Another, and a more likely scenario is that the is supplement produced in a factory which is contracted out to make multiple products, and contamination can occur leading to an inadvertent positive test.

While the athlete cannot control where supplements get made, they can control which ones they buy and use. NSF and Informed Choice are two organizations that provide specific product certification programs through batch testing of supplements, certifying whole brands and even approving manufacturing facilities, deeming all as safe for athletes who get drug tested. While it is not mandatory for supplement companies to be apart of these programs, you will want to put your trust into the ones that go out of their way to get certified safe for sport. 

An excellent example to use is one of the first companies I came across that get their products certified safe for sport: BioSteel. They are completely transparent and even have a web page dedicated to informing the consumer, taking pride in being a product of the highest standards. Informed choice also has a general summary of certified products, in which we can find many BioSteel products on the list. If you want to know more details, you can quickly search in both of the online databases or even the NSF mobile app. If you search on BioSteel, you can find their products listed on both the NSF and Informed Choice sites. It has other information like the specific batch numbers that get tested, date of testing and the expiration date of the certification. This is one example, and there are many companies and products available certified safe for sport. If the supplement companies you purchase from cannot be found on either list and are not transparent about it on their website, then it is probably time to switch companies to minimize risk and protect yourself.

In the end, whether you are training for the Olympics or the Crossfit Games, you as an athlete need to take responsibility for the supplements you are ingesting. The consequence of an inadvertent positive drug test will always fall on the athletes’ shoulders. Learn from others mistakes, as a violation and sanction will follow you for the rest of your life.

About the Author

Chris Chapman, Director of Strength Science, NEXUS

With 10+ years experience training  Olympic athletes to podium finishes, Chris Chapman spearheads the NEXUS mission to bring elite levels of sport science to the world of functional fitness.

Academically trained as a biomechanist, athletic therapist, kinanthropometrist and physiologist, Chris ensures the metrics provided by NEXUS are valid, reliable, and practical.

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChappyStrength


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