Toolbox: Know What You Are Using
It’s the rider’s responsibility to know what products they can use within – and outside of the rules. USA Cycling hosts several “Talent Identification Camps” each year for riders ages 14-19 years. Athletes are exposed to skills, tactics, and power testing, but perhaps the most important presentation is from USADA – the U.S. Anti Doping Agency.
Sean Wilson, our presenter, has been on most every side of cycling over the last 35 plus years. A former collegiate and professional rider, Sean is currently the President of the Southern California and Nevada Cycling Association (SCNCA), and most importantly for this forum, he is a research scientist and physiologist with a deep history and understanding of performance enhancement and the various pitfalls that come with it.
It’s All On You
We’ve all grown nauseous with the unending excuses on offer from rider after rider when they get popped for Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) use, but let’s cut to the chase. YOU, and you alone, are responsible for what goes in your body, and here’s the important part (and rightly so), ignorance is not an excuse for knowing exactly what is on the banned list.
Did you take a cold medicine with pseudoephedrine? That’s conditionally acceptable as long as you don’t exceed 150 micrograms/ML as a urinary concentration or, more importantly, you are not using it with a diuretic, which is an offense according to World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) rules.
Maybe you were a guest rider on a team whose director mandated that you take some “recovery mix” for the next day. Sorry friend, it is all on you if your test comes back positive. Or maybe he simply forgot to check the daily random rider testing list at the end of the stage, doesn’t matter at all, why? Because it is your responsibility alone to know what you are putting in your body.
Ok, fine…you’ll accept the mantle of responsibility for your actions, but how do you even begin to find out what’s on the list? The USADA website or “Athlete Express” hotline – 1.719.785.2000 ([email protected]) should be on your list of bookmarks and saved phone numbers.
In addition to their website and phone, USADA maintains a constantly updated list of banned substances online known as the Global Drug Reference Online (www.GlobalDRO.com). Use it!
Solving Real Medical Issues
Perhaps you suffer from any number of ailments that require medication to control. For example, if you have asthma you may have a prescription inhaler for regular or symptomatic use. That’s fine, but do you know the dosage of Albuterol, or other active ingredient, that is administered in each dose? Do you know how much Albuterol you can legally have in your system in a 24-hour period?
Fortunately, for those with medical issues there is a path forward, a Therapeutic Use Exemption or TUE. Exemptions are available for a myriad of issues that fall into about twenty different categories ranging from Adrenal insufficiency to Diabetes, Asthma (the most common) to Infertility. The process with USADA includes a two page application, supporting documentation and a complete medical history from your doctor, which is then reviewed by the TUE Committee.
Receiving a TUE is not a given, there are a couple of different competition levels and qualifiers. Regardless, the first step is to obtain trusted and qualified medical advice.
What About Supplements?
The first point of note from Sean was that supplements are unregulated in the United States. The European Union classifies supplements as food, and they are subject to strict regulation, but in the U.S. manufacturers are largely free to do what they want. Sean noted that research has shown nearly 20% of all supplements sold in the U.S. have a banned substance in them. That’s one in five, or basically more risky than playing Russian Roulette with a six shooter!
Given the above, one is forced to ask if supplements are truly worth the risk. While I’m just one voice in the mix, I would argue that supplements as a category are largely a waste of time and money. Consider that the main goal of supplement companies is to make money and to do that unscrupulous vendors often mislabel, rename, or simply omit questionable and illegal ingredients completely.
Take Geranium Oil. Marketing hype touts it as a “natural” extract of the plant, but what they fail to acknowledge is that it only appears in trace amounts in one variety of Geranium, and that marketed brands often contain DMAA (1,3 dimethamylamine), a stimulant similar to amphetamines.
Although the FDA banned DMAA’s in 2012 they are still widely available and new versions have started appearing on the market. Companies put in concoctions like these for the simple reason that they appear to work, though often with zero scientific evidence. Workout with a bunch of amphetamines in your system and you’re going to feel it! Manufacturers hope you believe that it was their “workout fuel” and re-purchase, simple as that.
So what is a conscientious racer to do? Currently there are no certification standards in place from organizations like the FDA or USADA to help consumers know if they are buying a good product or one that may be more nefarious. However, two organizations have come to the fore recently that are attempting to provide this necessary bridge.
The Banned Substances Control Group (www.BSCG.org) offers a certified “drug free database” for users looking to make an informed choice, and is worth a look.
Similarly, the Public Health and Safety Organization (www.nsf.org) looks to establish certification standards for supplements that ensure clean products are easily identifiable by consumers.
PED use is a scourge in cycling. All too often the focus is on the infractions and culprits rather than on the prevention and elimination because that makes better headlines. As a racer you are responsible for what goes in your body and “I didn’t know” is not a valid excuse. As you look to maximize your performance, take a proactive approach by using any number of available resources like USADA’s GlobalDRO website, the BSCG “Drug Free Database” or the NSF organization to vet your choices and make sure that you don’t run afoul of the doping police!
About Matt McNamara: Matt is a USA Cycling Level 1 coach with over 20 years of racing, coaching and team management experience. This fall he is once again jumping into the ‘cross game in anticipation of a massive El Nino in Northern California and the arrival of much needed (and anticipated) rain! Matt is the founder and president of Sterling Sports Group. Learn more by visiting him online at www.sterlingwins.com.