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Banned Substances in Supplements - How easy is it to spot them?

As an athlete, you understand the importance of nutrition in achieving peak performance. Supplements can be a valuable tool in your arsenal, providing the necessary nutrients to support your training and recovery that you may not be able to achieve through whole foods alone. However, there's a lurking concern that every powerlifter should be aware of: the presence of banned substances in seemingly innocuous supplements.


Banned substances (banned both in and out of competition) can enhance athletic performance but are prohibited in competitive sports due to their potential health risks or other reasons determined by WADA. Some examples of these are higenamine and DMAA. The reality is that these banned ingredients may not be listed on supplement labels under their recognizable names - often chemical nomenclature used makes ingredients easy to hide, making it crucial to be vigilant about what supplements you choose to use and what to look out for.

Multiple Aliases for Banned Ingredients


DMAA is a prime example of a banned in-competition stimulant with numerous aliases. DMAA is a neurological stimulant which causes a quick spike of energy similar to caffeine and other classical stimulants but does so by different mechanisms in the brain. DMAA goes by many names in the supplement industry. Some of these include Methylhexanamine, geranamine, 1,3-dimethylpentylamine, and many more. Unsurprisingly, manufacturers often use these alternative names to obfuscate the true nature of their product's ingredients. At the moment there are currently 7 athletes listed by the IPF serving on average a 2-year sanction for the presence of Methylhexaneamine in their drug test in competition. In several instances, this has happened due to athletes being unaware of the presence of DMAA in their pre-workouts due to different names being used on supplement labels.

Higenamine is a substance banned at all times as a named beta-2 agonist. It's a molecule derived from a variety of fruits and plants and has anti-asthmatic properties via dilating the bronchial tubes (a mechanism known as Beta(2)adrenergic agonism). This mechanism is also the same one underlying the fat-burning potential of ephedrine, and as such higenamine is currently used as a fat burner in several pre-workouts. It also goes by the following names: Norcoclaurine, 1-(4-hydroxyphenyl)methyl-1, or demethylcoclaurine.

Why the Secrecy?

The presence of banned substances in supplements is a concern for both athletes and regulators. While some manufacturers may intentionally include these substances to provide a performance edge - think original Jack3d pre - others may inadvertently do so due to lax quality control or contamination issues. Additionally, some banned ingredients may be masked as "proprietary blends" on supplement labels, making it even harder for consumers to identify them. Ultimately, it's up to you as an athlete to identify every one of the ingredients you choose to consume. This includes identifying the risk of contaminated products!


Protecting Yourself: Tips for the Informed Powerlifter


1. Research and Due Diligence: Before purchasing any supplement, invest time in researching both the product and the manufacturer. Look for reputable brands with a history of producing safe, quality supplements

2. Read Labels Carefully: While banned substances may have many names, some labels do list them under one of their aliases. Familiarize yourself with common aliases.


3. Third-Party Testing: Seek out supplements that undergo third-party testing for quality and purity. These products are more likely to be free from banned substances. E.g. Informed Sport.

4. Consult a Professional: Nutritionists, dietitians, and even your coach can provide valuable guidance on supplement selection. They can help you navigate the complex world of sports nutrition. It is worth noting that whilst they can provide advice - you are ultimately responsible for what you choose to put in your body!


5. Report Suspected Issues: If you suspect a supplement contains banned substances or you experience adverse effects, report it to relevant authorities or sports organizations. Your vigilance can protect not only yourself but also fellow athletes.


Remember, the pursuit of greatness should never come at the cost of your health or your integrity. Stay informed, choose your supplements wisely, and compete with confidence.

TLDR: If you trust that what's listed in the ingredients is actually what's in the tub of pre-workout you're looking at - and you see a long chemical name that you don't recognize, - chances are you should find out exactly what it is before taking a risk.

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