In the wake of statements by the Australian swimmer Shayna Jack, the sports supplement industry has suddenly come into the limelight and for all the wrong reasons. Her failed drug test, and suggested remarks by her insinuate that the blunder was the result of contaminated sports supplements. The industry therefore looks at how these protein and mineral rich supplements have been “shaping and sculpting” the high intensity world of sports and extreme physical fitness.

A range of substances come under the wide umbrella of sports supplements that comprises, multivitamins, protein powder – usually whey protein from cow’s milk, but varieties have expanded in recent years to include soy, pea, hemp, rice, and even sweet potato proteins – which assist in muscle repair after a strenuous workout, creatine and amino acids for muscle energy, performance-enhancing “pre-workouts” and fat burners, also known as thermogenics.

These are commonplace items constituting an integral part of all athletes and fitness enthusiasts. The fad began decades ago, gaining particular popularity in the 60s and 70s. The desire for quicker and better results has prompted their wide usage, starting early on for the ambitious lot. People resort to supplements and even plain caffeine to achieve the impossible in their aspiration to do more, some of which ends in brutal premature fatalities.

In Australia the body governing the regulation of supplements spread in the consumer market is the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). But more often than not, these goods are now obtained through international online portals that unfortunately do not come under the TGA purview. The practice of buying unwatched and unregulated continues from online sources in spite of repeated warnings from the TGA on possible harmful ingredients found in some products.

The New South Wales health authority warned openly about workout supplements that contained the chemical 2,4-dinitrophenol (DNP), saying it had contributed to deaths locally and overseas. Other contaminants that have been found in supplements include methylhexaneamine (DMAA), which the TGA made illegal in 2012 due to concerns that it could be lethal, and the structurally similar compound 1,3-dimethylbutylamine (DMBA). Asada issued a warning to athletes in 2014, that DMBA may have been replacing DMAA in off-the-shelf supplements after the TGA ban. DMBA itself was banned in 2017.