By Nick Harris
SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year
2 May 2011
An investigation by Sportingintelligence has found that at least five professional sportsmen have failed drugs tests – and in three cases been banned – after taking supplements, including diet pills, marketed by the same company that has issued private product recalls because they know some of their products have been contaminated with a banned substance.
It is not known at the time of writing – despite asking the company involved for confirmation – whether some of these contaminated products remain on shelves. If they do, they remain a potential danger to professional sportspeople’s careers.
Therefore in the public interest, Sportingintelligence today publishes (further below) a list of batch numbers for products where the manufacturer believes there was / is a contamination risk.
This list of batch numbers has been circulated secretly to suppliers with the warning from the company concerned: “Our manufacturer has informed us that the following batches could be contaminated.”
The batch numbers are made public for the first time today by Sportingintelligence.
The company is question is called Ultimate Sports Nutrition (USN), headquartered in South Africa. Their UK website can be found here.
The banned substance involved in the failed drugs tests by the sportsmen mentioned is methylhexaneamine (MHA), a stimulant.
The affected USN supplements – with MHA absent from the listed ingredients because there was not supposed to be any MHA in the products – were the “pre-workout supplement” Anabolic Nitro, and the diet tablets, Xedra-Cut, described on USN’s website as “an advanced fat loss activator”.
The five professional sportsmen known to have failed drugs test after testing positive for MHA, where USN products have been cited in their cases, are:
- The South African international rugby union players, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Bjorn Basson, who both escaped bans after arguing they took contaminated products in good faith. Their explanation was believed not least because the South African Rubgy Union (SARU) had had the supplements tested by a leading lab before use, and the test had come back ‘clean’ (because the test did not actually look for MHA).
- Nico Steenkamp of Rotherham Titans. He was banned for three months after testing positive for MHA. A PDF of his disciplinary hearing can be found by following this link.
- Karena Wihongi of Sale Sharks. He was banned for four months after testing positive for MHA. A PDF of his disciplinary hearing can be found by following this link.
- Simon Mensing of Hamilton in the SPL. He was banned for four weeks after testing positive for MHA. A PDF of his disciplinary hearing can be found by following this link.
The four rugby players had all taken USN’s Anabolic Nitro. Mensing, a footballer in Scotland’s top division, had taken USN’s weight loss product, Xedra-Cut.
Mensing’s case was heard at the end of January and he had served his ban by the end of February.
However, a spokeswoman for USN has confirmed the product recall on Xedra-Cut was not made until 18 March, claiming USN did not know of a contamination risk until 17 March.
On 1 March, knowing there was a contamination issue with Anabolic Nitro, USN put out a press release linked here. It doesn’t actually mention professional athletes failing drugs tests. At the time of writing it hasn’t been updated to include any warning about Xedra-Cut.
Rather it states, as of 2 May 2011: “USN ensures that all risks for elite athletes are reduced by conducting product screening.”
And later in the release it says: “USN does not include methylhexaneamine in any of its product formulations.” (This is absolutely true – but does neglect to make any reference whatsoever to at least five professional sportsmen who took USN products and then tested positive for MHA, coincidentally or otherwise).
The batches of the products USN believes were (or are) contaminated are these:
USN is not the only supplement firm implicated in positive drugs tests (and bans) after findings for MHA, although in some other cases MHA was an ingredient listed in a supplement, albeit listed under an alternative name, and henced ‘overlooked’.
Details of other MHA cases dealt with since last summer by UK Anti-Doping can be found at this link.
The lesson for professional sportsmen is that no supplements, regardless of what the packaging says, come with 100 per cent guarantees that they are safe, even if they purport to be ‘clean’.
Contamination is a serious problem in what even USN itself describes as “an unregulated industry”.
UK Anti-doping’s policy is that all supplements carry risk: there is no such thing as a 100 per cent safe supplement.
UKAD does, however, recommend that any athlete who is going to take supplements should make every effort to check ingredients, and even refers athletes to Informed Sport, which tests supplements to provide athletes with as much assurance as possible that a particular supplement is “safe”.
But as Dr David Hall, the CEO of HFL Sport Science (the lab firm that runs Informed Sport as its elite ‘screening’ service) tells me: “There is always a residual risk of contaminated product entering the market – and strict liability rules must therefore be taken into account. We can never guarantee drug-free supplements.”
Random testing of off-the-shelf dietary supplement products on sale in the UK have shown that one in 10 are contaminated with banned substances that could lead to positive drugs tests in professional sportsmen. Similar random testing in the US has shown that one in four supplements are contaminated, Dr Hall tells me.
UK Anti-doping says that “all supplement use carries an inherent risk, and it is for athletes to identify the level of risk associated with a particular supplement.
“We feel that it would be of limited use to issue advisories regarding individual supplements, because this detracts from the overall message, which is that all supplement use must be risk-assessed by athletes.”
USN have confirmed to Sportingintelligence this morning that their website will be updated at the earliest opportunity to reflect that some batches of some of its supplements have had issues with contamination.
The most high-profile sportsman in Britain recently to have failed a drugs test – reportedly after taking his wife’s diet pills, is Manchester City’s Kolo Toure. It is not yet public knowledge which firm manufactured those pills, or indeed what substance Toure tested positive for.