Banned Substances, Supplements & the CrossFit Athlete

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Drug testing

Over the years there have been a handful of  failed drug tests (and disqualifications) at the CrossFit Games but in comparison to other more established sports, the CrossFit Drug Testing program has been relatively lenient and far from foolproof.

For example: It wasn’t until 2014 that out-of-competition testing came into effect, which means an athlete could (theoretically) use banned substances for the majority of the year and only “clean up” when it was time to compete.

Recently however, it seems that CrossFit is moving to crack down on the use of banned substances/PEDs by implementing  stricter testing procedures and year-round testing. And indeed it seems as though more athletes have received sanctions this year than in the past; but whether that is the result of the new program, more people using banned substances, or because CrossFit HQ feels the needs to make a point/make examples of people is hard to say.

As of 2015, there are two categories of Drug Tests that can be administered:

1. Championship Testing

Testing which may occur on site at any CrossFit-sanctioned event and will take place at qualifying events for the CrossFit Games (Regionals) and at CrossFit Games individual and Team Championships events. The selection of Athletes to be drug tested may be based on random selection or position of finish.

Podium Finishers

Image © Crossfit Inc.

2. Unannounced Directed or Random Testing (Out of competition)

Testing which is done outside of competition at the discretion of CrossFit Inc. due to “reasonable suspicion” OR based on random, electronic selection from CrossFit’s “Athlete Testing Pool.”

In either case, if an athlete refuses to consent/provide a sample for analysis or their test comes back for a banned substance, they are subject to one or more of the following sanctions:

  • Disqualification from that Event
  • Forfeit or required return of any prizes, awards, or money from that competition.
  • Suspension from participating in future CrossFit-sanctioned events*

*The length of suspension is determined by CrossFit Inc. and may include a lifetime ban from all CrossFit-sanctioned or sponsored events in addition.

Furthermore, in accordance with the 2015 Drug Testing Program, CrossFit reserves the right to publicly announce the results of any failed test(s) as “explanation for changes in official results and as a source of ‘future education’ about the [banned] substance(s) that caused the failed test.” Which means not only are athletes subject to short-term/immediate sanctions (disqualified/banned), but they also have to deal with long-term consequences such as the stigma associated with “cheating.”

Responses to CrossFit’s Latest Drug Testing Program

In the end we are the ones who will be held responsible, and we are the ones who will have to live with the consequences.
This new/improved testing program has been applauded by some for being “a step in the right direction” while being mocked by others for being “laughably easy to beat.”

But that topic — whether the new program is effective/fair — will have to wait for another time, as that is not the issue I want to discuss now. What I do want to address is the issue of banned substances/supplements/medication and our responsibilities as athletes, because it is up to us to

  1. know what we are putting in our bodies, and
  2. familiarize ourselves with the prohibited substance list.

In the end we are the ones who will be held responsible, and we are the ones who will have to live with the consequences.

Know What You Are Putting in Your Body

There are certain banned substances which are “no brainers” (e.g. anabolic steroids), and if you are taking them you know (or should know) what you’re getting yourself into/the risks you are taking.

However, there are also many substances on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Prohibited List, that the average athlete may be unaware of and which could be taken unintentionally because an athlete is:

  • unfamiliar with the prohibited list, and/or
  • unaware of the ingredient in their supplements.

Regardless of the intent (or awareness) behind consumption of a banned substance, the consequences are serious.

Illegal Pre-Workouts?

In 2012 the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport released an advisory notice warning athletes and support personnel to be wary of supplements and sports nutrition products, as they have been linked to a number  of doping violations, both in Canada and Worldwide.

“Many Canadian athletes take supplements, including pre-workout products, protein powders, energy drinks and vitamins,” said Paul Melia, President and CEO of the CCES. “Many of [which] contain banned substances, which may be revealed only after they cause a positive test. I don’t think athletes fully appreciate the damage that taking supplements could do to their athletic career.”

And it’s true. How many of us are guilty of downing energy drinks, chugging pre-workout before a WOD or taking a supplement without first checking the ingredient list or doing our homework? And even if we do, do we know what we’re looking for? A lot of banned substances come in a variety of forms and can be listed under different names, which means we could be looking right at them without even realizing it.

For example: Methylhexaneamine is a banned stimulant on the (WADA) Prohibited List which also happens to go by the name of:

  • methylhexaneamine OR methylhexanamine
  • 1,3-dimethylpentylamine OR pentylamine
  • 1,3-dimethylamylamine OR DMAA
  • Geranamine
  • Floradrene
  • 2-hexanamine, 4-methyl- OR 2-hexanamine, 4-methyl- (9CI) OR 4-methyl-2-hexanamine OR 4-methyl-2-hexylamine
  • 4-methylhexan-2-amine OR 2-amino-4-methylhexane
  • Forthan OR Forthane OR 1,3-dimethylamylamineforthane
  • C7H17N

all of which are banned and can result in a failed drug test.

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