In the wake of recent failed doping tests by high profile sprinters Asafa Powell, Tyson Gay, Sherone Simpson, and Veronica Campbell-Brown, the head of United Kingdom Athletics, David Walsh, said it was difficult for the governing body to support supplement use by athletes because there is no way a supplement can be guaranteed as 100% clean, even with testing. To some extent, he is correct, but not  because the supplement industry is lax in quality control standards. As Chris Whitehouse, spokeperson for the industry trade group ESSNA (European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance quite rightly pointed out, the quality of most sports nutrition products these days is more rigorously controlled than ordinary foodstuffs.

Part of the problem for anti-doping authorities, as the BALCO scandal of a few years ago so acutely demonstrated, is that you can only find an adulterant when you know what you are looking for. If it is a new compound, or a variation of an old one (like BALCO’s THG), or some new protocol or procedure, it can only be spotted if the authorities know about it and are testing specifically for it. But it is not possible for the authorities to know and test for everything because, when it comes to R & D, the purveyors of performance enhancement are nothing if not creative, resourceful, and energetic.

For the most part, these things aren’t a problem for the big name, reputable supplement brands, as they are typically manufactured and tested to the highest quality, food-grade GMP standards. Many brands have resorted to certifications such as those provided by Informed Choice (, or the Banned Substance Control Group ( to provide extra assurance to athletes. As the doping scandals aren’t going away any time soon, expect such certifications to become de rigueur in the supplement industry in the years ahead.

On occasion, a nutritional supplement can contain undeclared doping ingredients, as random surveys and tests have shown. Nonetheless, there are those who feel such things are far less prevalent than the doping authorities and the general public believe. What do athletes always say when caught for doping? They blame it on contaminated supplements, and say they never knowingly took a banned substance. This standard, cookie-cutter exclamation is why people think adulterated supplements are more common than they probably are. In some cases, an athlete may well have inadvertantly taken a bad  supplement, but in most cases they are likely lying to cover their ass. Lying about it changes them from a willfull cheater to an innocent victim, and it is difficult to get hard evidence to refute the claim.

So while adulteration, especially among the reputable brands, is probably far less likely than people believe, the fact that it can and does happen mean that competitive, tested athletes have to be as vigilant as ever about what they put into their bodies.