I have dedicated years of my life to track and field, to my goals of becoming my best and competing with the best. It breaks my heart that suspicion is cast on the sport by people cheating to get to the front. Yes, there have been well-publicized scandals of superstars who test positive for a banned substance. But there are also a large number of athletes who compete cleanly and fairly. As I train with different groups around the country, and see breakthrough stories from athletes I trust, or experience my own champion moments, I am optimistic that one can get to the top as a clean athlete, and that fans can confidently cheer, and not always suspect that a good performance indicates some illegal method.
But why would a reader trust me just saying that? Here’s a bit of background on how the system works, and what it means to me to compete clean:
- In order to compete at USATF and IAAF sanctioned events, athletes agree to train without the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs or methods, and submit themselves to drug testing by regulatory bodies.
- That means we are subject to blood and urine tests during competitions (usually right after the completion of an event), as well as surprise visits from a doping control officer (DCO).
- It is not only about performance-enhancement. In many cases, the drugs that are banned are not meant for continuous consumption in the general population, and may be dangerous over long term use. By making them illegal, we are enabling athletes to train and compete to the best of our abilities, without having to resort to measures that may be harmful to our health.
- The list of prohibited items is public and available for everyone to see, here.
- Of course, there have been articles and films about how it’s not hard to get around the rules. Someone could train in a country with a less stringent drug testing operation, or micro-dose to a level below detectible limits.
- But most times those actions aren’t happening in a vacuum. When people get caught, an agent or coach is usually also implicated.
- Clean athletes can indicate their intent by associating with people who have a good record, that means coaches, agents and training partners.
Supplements and Strict Liability
- Athletes are judged on the standard of strict liability.
- We are responsible for anything that goes into our bodies, regardless of intent. Taking something by mistake is not an excuse.
- This standard comes into play with supplements (common vitamins). Because supplements are not regulated the same way as food or drugs, there isn’t a guarantee that the substance is pure.
- Common vitamins and minerals are not banned, but athletes who take them accept an increased risk. If a supplement is tainted with a banned substance, the athlete would test positive and bear the consequences.
How can an athlete navigate this with integrity? Here’s what I do:
- Of course, I’m in the testing pool until that time when I officially retire.
- I stand by the people (coaches, athletes, agents) with whom I’m associated, present and past.
- I get the majority of my vitamin and mineral needs from a good diet.
- If I ever need medicine, I check the GlobalDRO database to make sure it’s allowed.
- I’ve decided to take some supplements, as advised by a doctor or nutritionist. I look for reputable brands, that are certified by third-party testing (NSF and USP are two well-regarded third-party regulators). Supplement411 is another good resource. They keep a list of high-risk products to avoid.
- I am weary of substances specifically marketed for weight-loss or sports performance, as these are the categories most commonly contaminated, according to recent reviews.
- “Most supplements adulterated with drugs were marketed as weight loss, sexual enhancement, or sports supplements—the same categories that epidemiologists have found to be responsible for a disproportionate number of the estimated 23 000 emergency department visits attributed to dietary supplements each year in the United States”
- As part of a commitment to compete clean, I’m happy to talk about anything that I put in my body: food, supplements, occasional medicines, herbs. I’ll keep a list here of everything I’ve taken in the last year. And I’m always open to answering questions on this topic!
Supplements I take, or have taken in the past year (also in this post)
- Iron*** – Slow FE Iron. USOC recommends Nature Made Iron 65 mg, and USATF recommends a liquid protocol with Ferrous Sulfate Elixir. I’ve tried both.
- Vitamin C – Nature Made Vitamin C Chewables. I used to take Emergen-C.
- Vitamin D*** – Nature Made, or Thorne
- Gelatin – Knox Gelatin, unflavored, to promote collagen synthesis, and prevent injury to bone, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage. I’ve also tried Zint Beef Gelatin and Great Lakes Gelatin Collagen Hydrolysate.
- Golden Milk – Gaia Herbs Turmeric and Ashwagandha blend.
- Multi vitamin – Nature Made Prental. Prenatal because it has folate and B12.
- Electrolyte Tab – Nuun Vitamins. I sometimes use their higher electrolyte formula, which has more sodium and magnesium, for a long run or hard workout day.
- Pedialyte – occasionally during the summer.
- Protein powder* – Garden of Life SPORT Organic Plant-Based Protein.
- Melatonin – Nature Made Melatonin. I took this in early summer in Europe to help with jet lag. Some teammates mentioned it might not be great for frequent use, and I haven’t taken it much since July.
- ***Don’t supplement with iron or vitamin D without blood test results and instructions from a medical professional. Both can be harmful if used when not needed.***
I keep these in my house and use only on the occasion when necessary, maybe a 3-5 times a year. If available, I’ll buy the generic version. Medicine is regulated by the FDA, what you see on the label is what you get, and there is no difference between the generic and brand version.
- Visine Eye Drops
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- Generic antihistamine cream (dihpenhydramine hydrochloride and zinc acetate)
- Teas (I love Celestial Seasonings! Bengal Spice, Sleepytime, and Rooibos. Also green tea, and dandelion root)
- Milk Thistle
- Ricola or similar cough drops