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 pretty ‘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 their 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 are 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), 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.
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 CrosFit’s ‘Athlete Testing Pool’.
And 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 to 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 they subject to short-term/immediate sanctions (disqualified/banned) they also have to deal with long-term consequences such as the stigma associated with ‘cheating’.
Responses to CrossFit’s latest Drug Testing Program
This new/improved testing program has been applauded by some for being
“a step in the right direction”
and 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 however, is the issue of banned substances/supplements/medication and our responsibilities as athletes, because it is up to us to
- know what we are putting in our bodies, and
- familiarize ourselves with the prohibited substance list
In the end we are the ones that will be held responsible, and we are the ones that 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 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
And regardless of the intent (or awareness) behind consumption of a banned substance, the consequences are serious.
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 its true. How many of us are guilty of downing energy drinks, chugging pre-workout before a WOD or taking a supplement without first checking ingredient list/doing our homework? And even if we do, do we know what we’re looking for? A lot of banned substances come in variety of forms and can be listed under different names, which means we could be looking right at them without even realizing.
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
- 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
all of which are banned and can result in a failed drug test.
So why do supplements with these ‘illegal’ ingredients even exist?
Despite its classification as a WADA banned substance, Methylhexaneamine is only prohibited in competition*and recreational use is legal (depending on your Country)
Below are 4 examples of supplements that have Methylhexaneamine listed as an active ingredient
- OxyELITE Pro
- Hemo-Rage Black Ultra Concentrate
And they are available for purchase by pretty much anyone (either over the counter or online), including athletes. However, just because something can be legally/easily purchased does not mean it is allowed in competition. And to make things even harder athletes, not all manufacturers provide complete ingredient lists (either deliberately or due to contamination); which means an athlete could fail a drug test even if they think they are clean.
Prescriptions and Medications
Just because a supplement is available for purchase does mean it is legal in competition, and the same is true for medications (over the counter and prescription).
For Example – Earlier in the year I was prescribed methadone by an ER doctor for a back injury they believed could be nerve related (even though I mentioned I was a competitive athlete only weeks away from Nationals). Luckily I checked online before filling out the prescription, because turns out it is banned and had I taken it and been tested I could have been sanctioned.
Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE)
There are certain situations/conditions in which an athlete may need to use a medication listed on the WADA Prohibited list and if that is the case the athlete can apply for a TUE. Getting a TUE takes time however, and approval is granted at the discretion of USADA (US) or the CCES (Canada), which means athletes should get approval in advance not in hindsight/to cover their asses.
If you’re ever in doubt about a medication or prescription, check first.
Talk to a coach/authority.
Refer to the WADA Prohibited list, or
Use a tool like Globaldro
Whatever works best for you, just check. A doctors primary job is to keep us healthy, or at least as healthy as possible. Knowing what drugs we can and cannot take? That is up to us.
What does that mean for us as Athletes?
Bottom line is, even if we do our research and steer clear of everything on the prohibited list there is still a (small) chance that we could end up taking a banned substance. So then it becomes a matter of
“do I really need this supplements?”
“Is it worth the risk?”
“how much do I trust the manufacturer?”
and the answer to any of these questions is “no” or “not really”, then maybe its time to reconsider what we are putting in our bodies.
As a general rule, I’ve always stayed away from ‘pre-workout-type’ supplements because I dislike idea of becoming dependant – physically or psychologically – in order to perform.
As for the supplements I do take – currently Blonyx HMB+Creatine and Magnesium – I spend quite a bit of time researching them beforehand so I can make as informed a decision as possible.
There are some things in my life that I buy without much forethought, and there are certain things I will “cheap-out on”, but supplements isn’t one of them. When it comes to supplements if it’s a matter of paying and extra $5, $10 or $15 for a quality product I trust then I will.
Further Reading/Useful Tools
Trying to figure out what’s legal and what isn’t can be a pain in the ass. So, to make things a little bit easier, here are some of my favourite tools/resources
*Just awesome. Lets you enter your sport, country of purchase, position (athlete/coach etc) and medication to find out whether it is legal (in or out of competition), what the legal dosing is etc. N.B. They do not have CrossFit as a sport option, so I usually use weightlifting as my sport.