Phelps Puts Reputation On Line For Supplement

Phelps Puts Reputation On Line For Supplement

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Michael Phelps endorses the supplement PureSport, saying he needs the extra nutrition. (Jim Sulley, Newscast)
Michael Phelps, shown in Pittsburgh in September, endorses the supplement PureSport, saying he needs the extra nutrition. (Jim Sulley, Newscast)

Packets of the powdered dietary supplement called PureSport sit in cardboard boxes poolside when Michael Phelps trains, and a plastic PureSport water bottle is propped next to his lane. Even Phelps’s training mates empty the stuff into their water bottles before workouts.

Phelps readily touts the company’s dietary supplement products and says he does not fear a positive drug test.

PureSport advertises itself as an optimal mix of protein, electrolytes and carbohydrates. But dozens of athletes — most recently world-record holder Jessica Hardy — have been felled over the years by dietary supplements tainted with banned substances not indicated on their labels. Hardy tested positive for clenbuterol just weeks before the Beijing Summer Games and was kicked off the Olympic team; nearly a year had passed before a U.S. arbitration panel declared the result due to a contaminated supplement.

The World Anti-Doping Agency calls the use of dietary supplements by athletes “a concern” and advises “extreme caution” regarding their use. The dietary supplement industry, largely unregulated in the United States, has been the subject of congressional hearings and has proven rife with products containing illegal or unidentified substances. An investigation by The Washington Post found designer steroids in a number of readily available supplements in 2005.

All of which raises the question: Why would Phelps risk taking anything at all?

Phelps and his coach, Bob Bowman, who are paid to endorse PureSport, say they believe in the product, trust the people behind it and, on top of that, take extraordinary precautions. Phelps uses the supplement, which was introduced to the market in 2008, because he and Bowman believe he needs additional nutritional intake when in the midst of heavy training.

Other star athletes — swimmers Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen, Katie Hoff and gymnast Nastia Liukin, among others — also endorse the product, and many more, including Lance Armstrong and Dara Torres, endorse other dietary supplements.

“Everything sent to me is checked and double-checked to make sure it is clean,” Phelps said. “Supplements, you always take at your own risk. That’s how it’s always been.”

Ultimately, Phelps and Bowman say, they refuse to live in fear of a worst-case scenario.

“I can’t spend every minute of every day being afraid,” Bowman said. “You go with it. We know we’ve done our homework. It’s a leap of faith to some degree.”

The problems within the multi-billion dollar U.S. supplement industry have been well-documented, but not easily solved. In the famous “StarCaps” case in the NFL, six players tested positive after consuming weight-loss drugs contaminated with a prohibited diuretic and were suspended for four games. Swimmer Kicker Vencill missed a chance to compete in the 2004 Summer Games when he took a supplement laced with a steroid. Vencill, who was banned for two years, was awarded more than $500,000 by a jury after suing the company.

“Is it worth the risk to get a questionable bump in performance?” said Gary Wadler, chairman of WADA’s Prohibited List and Methods Sub-Committee. “If I were an athlete, I wouldn’t take that stuff.”

Pitching itself as an antidote to the ills in the supplement industry, PureSport says its products are made at National Science Foundation certified labs to ensure no contamination. They are also randomly tested by a facility in Cambridge, England, for banned substances. Elite athletes, said PureSport President Michael Humphrey, are guaranteed the additional testing by the Cambridge lab.

“There’s nothing else we could do,” Humphrey said. “There’s no other safety guard we could take.”

John Ivy, the Chairman of Health and Kinesiology at the University of Texas at Austin, created the PureSport formulas, which are used by 20 to 30 Division I collegiate programs, according to Humphrey.

“John’s a very serious scientist,” said Wadler, the WADA official. “That gives it a second look … He knows about carbohydrates, he knows about fluid balance, he knows about those kinds of things — which is different than [what’s in] some of those weird supplements out there that you can’t even pronounce.”

Hardy, it’s worth noting, was not taking a weird supplement. She decided to take a product, also a powder mixed with water, made by AdvoCare after consulting with two sport officials, one of whom told her the company was considered reputable. AdvoCare also claimed to have its products tested by an outside lab and Hardy met personally with company officials who guaranteed the product’s purity, according to the arbitration ruling that cut her two-year ban in half.

Phelps “endorses supplements still, today,” Hardy told The Post this summer. “If that had happened to him …. It very much could have happened to him.”

Hansen said PureSport understands the stakes of working with an athlete like Phelps.

“If [Phelps] fails a drug test because of something like that, it’s all over for a lot of people,” Hansen said. “For someone like him to trust our product, that speaks for itself.”

Bowman and Phelps said he had previously taken a protein product designed by Ivy called Endurox — only he hated the taste of that one. When asked a couple years ago to try out Ivy’s newest product by the brother of Austin-based swim coach Eddie Reese, Phelps found the taste more to his liking.

Leading up to the Olympic Games, every sample sent to Phelps was given additional testing, Bowman said.

“You couldn’t have taken more precautions than Michael took,” Bowman said. “I use it because you can’t make peanut-butter-and-jelly and give it to him within 20 minutes of practice every day, and eating grapes by the side of the pool won’t cut it, either.

“If you’re trying to swim the program he did in Beijing, you’re not doing that on normal nutrition.”


  1. PureSport is not a supplement. It is a hydration and recovery drink. Folks think that it is because its in a powder form right now. Do you consider gatorade or powerade a supplement? I would guess not. Plus the only reason I trust the product is because it is tested by Informed Sport unlike Advocare (pay attention Hardy). I think its hilarious when a journalist tries to write a story when there isn’t one there. What Phelps has done has been absolutely amazing in our sport. Don’t try and knock him. My hats off to PureSport for actually coming out with something healthy for athletes.
    – Master Swimmer

  2. Dave,
    Thanks for the comment. As it says on PureSport’s label, it has not been evaluated by the FDA; it’s neither a food nor a drug and thus falls in the huge supplement category. Dietary supplements include everything from vitamins and minerals to, as history has shown, more nefarious muscle-building substances. Many dietary supplements are, presumably, credible, safe products that we all use and don’t think twice about. The category includes perfectly harmless stuff, zinc supplements, herbal products, you name it. But the industry is almost completely unregulated. Manufacturers go through NO approval process with the FDA; by law, it is THEIR responsibility to ensure the accuracy of their labels and purity of their products. This situation has created an industry filled with problems — caused both by renegade producers out to make a buck on various health remedies or muscle-honing products, and well-meaning producers who unwittingly end up with contaminated products (either because they mixed stuff in a contaminated vat, or ordered substances that were contaminated). And the situation is doubly problematic for athletes, especially in Olympic sports, because drug-testing is so unforgiving. Even a tiny little error on someone’s part can destroy a career. The goal with the story was to illustrate the dilemma: Athletes are faced with horror stories all around them–and there are many–not to mention constant warnings from USADA and WADA, yet they feel they need extra nutrition to support their incredible workloads. Sure, some products are probably super-pure and super-safe — and maybe PureSport is at the very top of that list– but there is a risk with taking anything. Could you take any more precautions than Phelps has? Doubtful. Has he minimized the risk (short of taking no supplements)? Seems so. PureSport is a really interesting company; it might be — as the article said — potentially an antidote to the industry’s myriad problems. The company has a top-notch, credible scientist — if WADA’s Gary Wadler respects the guy, that’s a pretty powerful plug — and it is trying to head off potential problems with extraordinary safety measures. It’s an interesting concept; they certainly have attracted a stable full of stars.

  3. Dave,
    I think it’s hilarious when someone without the facts knocks a balanced and well-researched piece of journalism.

  4. Didn’t we all learn something from Jessica Hardy’s choice of supplemental companies SHE deliberately partook in at the time of the Olympic Trials. Why Michael – if you are so NATURALLY talented would you go the way of Jessica – or even presume to desire to go that way? It will never be proven if Ms. Hardy knew she was doing something banned to her body – the record states she bore the justified consequence for it being in her body. She shoulda just gone the natural way. All the other athletes – including yourself – went the natural way.

    This confounds and confuses me. And saddens me for the sport. One step away from all the other cheaters, Michael. Are you happy now – don’t you have enough money at this point?

  5. I could be mistaken but I think most of the problems that have occurred with other supplements is that they are manufactured in facilities where other products that would cause an athlete to flunk a drug test are being manufactured (I believe this was the argument that Hardy used in her defense). It’s comparable to the problem that people who are deathly allergic to nuts face: If they know a supposedly nut-free product is nonetheless made in a factory where products with nuts are also made, they do not take a chance on eating it.

    What I would want to know for sure is if PureSport is being made in facilities where there’s no chance of contamination. It sounds as if it is, but it would be a question worth asking. I’ve been using PureSport myself and like it a lot (taste and recovery effects), but I’m long past my days of drug testing!

  6. Dave,

    If you trust the product because it is tested by Informed Choice, then you also trust Advocare. Check the Informed Choice website. Also, the Advocare product used by Hardy was a recovery drink mix as well.

  7. i completely agree with dave, pure sport is a drink like gatorade or powerade. brenden hansen is working for the company. and dave is right that the journalist is writing a story that isnt even a story. this is nothing to write about. michael phelps’ reputation will not be affected by him drinking a energy drink.

  8. That’s probably what Jessica Hardy was thinking – and putting her trust upon – right up until that blood test(s) post trials.

    I remain highly skeptical of all of this – and disappointed in Phelps feeling he so needs to go here. Again – does he not have enough money from the sport by this point. And Hardy – her reputation and motivations remain sullied. For life. Why go where Hardy went. Why would anyone?

  9. There is absolutely no controversy with PureSport or Endurox. I don’t know a single swimmer that does not drink one of these two “recovery drinks” after practice. I do not know a single swim coach that does not encourage his athletes to drink one of these two drinks. This article is trying to make something out of nothing. These drinks are basically Gatorade or Powerade, but with added whey protein and carbohydrates to aid in post-workout recovery. It’s not like these drinks are steriods in a bottle. It’s like drinking Boost or Ensure after practice, but with more of a bent towards endurance athletes like swimmers, bikers, and runners with aerobic-based practices.
    The author of this article is also trying to make these products sound like they’re not well know. Ever heard of Accelerade or seen those commerials? It’s the same thing as Endurox but for during the workout rather than afterwards.
    There is no risk here by Phelps. These products are used by thousands and thousands of other athletes for post-workout nutrition. No controversy here.

  10. What we have here is a reasonable discussion, mostly. Good points, Jane. Jessica Hardy and Kicker Vencill got some bad breaks, stood up for themselves and emerged wiser and very respectably. No question, there is a market for healthy products, that still have a good (or not all that bad) taste or aftertaste. (I did hear that one of the earlier versions of one of the products mentioned above tasted like sweat…) So, I do not think it is a crisis that Phelps and other athletes are looking for healthy ways to keep their bodies performing at optimum levels. Good work, PureSport.

  11. Swim Mom, other bashers,

    Not only are we talking about Michael Phelps, but Bob Bowman, a coach who is more protective over Michael than most parents are of their kids. What credibility do you or any of us have to question their decision? If you think in your expert opinion that this is a bad move, how much more do you think Phelps and Bowman have thought it through? They have a hell of a lot more to lose than you, might I add. Not to mention this product is much more proven than others…did you read the names of athletes that use it?

    Dave is right, this is a sad attempt by a journalist to cause controversy over something that has no controversy.


    You’re the kind of person who looks for any excuse possible to bash someone who has it better than you. Who cares how much money Phelps has or the success he has enjoyed? Seriously, would you like to test for Gatorade in athlete’s systems? Get a life, he’s taking it because its clean and helps him train at his best. Who the hell cares if he gets payed for it? Thats what sponsors do, I wonder if you protest every professional athlete who endorses a product? Nobody gets to Phelps’ level by raw talent. They get there by working harder than anybody else. And to train at that level 7 days a week they need all the energy they can get, and like Bowman said, its not like he can sit on the pool deck and suck down PB&Js and grapes before every workout.

    Can everyone leave Phelps alone please? Jesus

  12. It seems to me some of you are jealous, these athletes can’t help the talent they got eating and drinking like the average person is unhealthy for them. When you get in the pull 7 days a week for 2+ more hours at a time and burn 10,000 calories and don’t have to supplement nutrition, we all would appreciate your comments. Until then if all you have is negative, keep your lips together and your fingers off the keyboard.

  13. Mary-
    your the type of person/typical women who doesnt know anything about sports and how much time and effort and energy you put into it. its not like i can be on an average healthy diet and expect to be above average in my sport, diet is everything, so i have to eat an above average diet to be above average. when your swimming as hard as phelps, you need something to aid your muscles in recovery to be ready for the next day. and as far as the money issue goes, just fuck off. hes didnt endorse it for the money obviously, he did it for the bennafits that come with the product. so do your reasearch next time before you post stupid ass comments like yours. obviously i know what im talking about.(get owned bitch)

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