Elite athletes often use dietary supplements as part of their training or competition routine, but these products can lead to an anti-doping rule violation if they are contaminated with banned substances. Stimulants and anabolic-androgenic steroids are the most common contaminants in dietary supplements, but reports of dietary supplements contaminated with SARMs (selective androgen receptor modulators) are also on the rise.
If you’ve been accused of an anti-doping rule violation that you believe is due to SARMs dietary supplement contamination, you should contact the experienced anti-doping attorneys at Global Sports Advocates. Do not take any unnecessary chances with your future—get the help you need to ensure that you’re able to continue competing in the sport you love.
What WADA Says About Dietary Supplements
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is responsible for monitoring compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code—a global standard introduced in 2004 to promote uniform anti-doping regulations worldwide. Substances are banned if their use provides an unfair competitive advantage, poses a health risk to the athlete, or violates the spirit of the sport. The Code bans some substances both in and out of competition, including anabolic agents, beta-2 agonists, and hormone and metabolic modulators. Other substances, such as stimulants, narcotics, glucocorticoids, and cannabinoids, are only banned in competition.
Dietary supplements are permitted as long as they do not contain any of the substances on the WADA Prohibited List. However, WADA warns that supplement labels may not be accurate and that athletes should use caution when deciding whether to use a particular product.
Contamination in dietary supplements results in numerous anti-doping rule violations for athletes each year. A study published in BioMed Research International in April 2022 found that approximately 6.4% to 8.8% of reported doping cases are the result of undeclared substances in dietary supplements.
How Dietary Supplements Can Be Contaminated With Banned Substances
Contamination in dietary supplements marketed to elite athletes can be either accidental or intentional. Accidental contamination occurs when the product is made in a factory that produces other items containing the contaminant and the manufacturing equipment is not being cleaned correctly. Intentional contamination occurs when supplements covertly include banned ingredients to make them more effective. For example, there have been multiple cases of supplements intentionally contaminated by Chinese pharmaceutical companies with high amounts of “classic” anabolic steroids such as metandienone or stanozolol.
Contamination rates remain high because the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is not required to approve a supplement label or verify its contents before the product is sold to consumers. There are stringent regulations regarding the safety, purity, and efficacy of pharmaceutical products, but no such uniform quality controls exist for the manufacturing of dietary supplements sold as pills, powders, capsules, and liquids. The FDA can only evaluate reports of adverse events to determine if a product may present safety risks to consumers. Due to its limited resources, the FDA focuses enforcement efforts on public health emergencies and products that may have caused injury or illness.
Exact figures are difficult to come by, but experts estimate that anywhere between 12% and 58% of dietary supplements may contain prohibited substances. Multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements and fat-burning products are thought to have the highest risk of contamination.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) recommends you use only dietary supplements certified by NSF Certified for Sport® to best reduce your risk of a violation caused by supplement contamination. The Certified for Sport® certification is the only independent third-party certification program that is recognized by the USADA. This certification is also recommended by the NFL, NBA, PGA, LPGA, CCES, CPSDA, iNADO, Ironman, NASCAR, UFC, and other organizations seeking to mitigate the risks associated with dietary supplement use.
Substances can be verified by checking on the NSF Certified for Sport® website or the mobile application. Certification means:
- The dietary supplement does not contain any of the 280 substances that are banned by major athletic organizations.
- The contents of the supplement are consistent with what is printed on the product label.
- There are no unsafe levels of contaminants in the tested supplement.
- The product was manufactured at a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) registered facility that is audited twice annually for quality and safety by NSF International.
SARMs Dietary Supplement Contamination
First discovered in the late 1990s, SARMs work by binding to your androgen receptors and triggering changes in your DNA that increase your ability to grow muscle. This process is similar to what is found with steroid use, but steroids are considered a “blunt tool” that can impact other parts of the body in ways that can lead to side effects such as hair loss, acne, and prostate issues. SARMs are tissue-selective, which allows them to target muscles without those negative side effects.
SARMs are banned from sport due to their performance-enhancing effects. They are listed as “other anabolic agents” under section S1.2 of the WADA Prohibited List and banned both in and out of competition.
Common types of SARMs include:
- Andarine (GTx-007, S-4)
- Ligandrol (LGD-4033)
- LGD-3033 (a newer version of LGD-4033)
- Ostarine (MK-2866)
- Stenabolic (SR9009)
- Testolone (RAD-140)
The long-term effects of using SARMs are unknown. However, there is evidence to suggest that these compounds pose an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and liver damage. The FDA issued a public warning about the use of SARMs in 2017.
Despite the risks, SARMs are still found in several types of supplements marketed to fitness enthusiasts. Unfortunately, athletes can’t simply read labels to choose a supplement that doesn’t run afoul of anti-doping rules. Supplements may be contaminated with SARMs—especially if they are marketed using drug-like claims.
In 2020, Drug Testing & Analysis published the results of a study examining the use of SARMs in dietary supplements. The team analyzed 20 dietary supplements and found that only six of the analyzed samples were in accordance with the labeling. When SARMs were detected, researchers found discrepancies between the measured concentrations and those listed in the product packaging.
Because there are no FDA-approved SARMs, they can’t be prescribed by a doctor. SARMs are considered investigational or experimental drugs.
The Penalties for an Anti-Doping Rule Violation Can Be Significant
College, professional, and Olympic athletes are held to an incredibly high standard known as “strict liability.” An athlete is considered responsible for whatever is present in their body regardless of how it got there.
Even if it’s due to supplement contamination, the penalties for an anti-doping rule violation can include:
- Forfeiture of medals or prize money
The publicity associated with an anti-doping rule violation can also have serious consequences for your professional reputation. For example, the scandal could affect your ability to profit from your name, image, and likeness.
If you have been accused of violating your sport's anti-doping rules, you should contact an experienced anti-doping lawyer immediately.
Have You Been Accused of Anti-Doping Rule Violations Due to SARMs Dietary Supplement Contamination?
At Global Sports Advocates, we understand what’s at stake and will work to minimize the effect sanctions may have on your ability to compete in the sport you love. Our anti-doping attorneys Paul Greene and Matthew Kaiser are leaders in the field of sports law who have represented athletes from over 50 countries spanning nearly every sports category. Please contact us online or call us directly at +1-207-747-5899 to schedule your initial 1 hour consultation.