Lane Johnson’s Lesson: Sometimes The Labels Lie

Lane Johnson is suspended because his amino supplement contained a substance banned by the NFL. That’s a high price to pay for a little carelessness. Johnson was using an app, Aegis Shield, endorsed by the NFL and NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA) to identify products with banned substances. The Aegis app’s fatal flaw, though, is that it trusts the label on the bottle.

Athletes use Aegis Shield to check supplements before buying them. The app runs off 7 lists of banned substances, including the NFL and the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) lists, and alerts users if these ingredients like steroids or stimulants show up. But that’s not the same thing as actually testing for the drugs, and manufacturers know it. It’s easy for bad companies to get around the app by not reporting some ingredients on their labels.

At Labdoor, we’ve been testing for WADA-banned substances even in products that don’t have any suspicious ingredients on their labels. We’ve learned from experience that testing is the only way to know what’s really in a supplement. For example, we found the banned stimulant BMPEA (beta-methylphenethylamine) in Train Critical FX when we were testing pre-workout mixes. Since then, the FDA has come after the company and forced them to take the product off the market.

These banned substances get added to commercial products because they make them seem more effective than the competition. Stimulants and steroids can have powerful effects, ranging from performance-enhancing to health-threatening — both, reasons they were banned in the first place; to preserve the health and wellness of athletes as well as the spirit of the sport.

In this instance, Johnson always had the option to send his supplements to the NFL’s lab for free testing, but never did. Maybe that’s his fault, but the NFLPA’s endorsement and discount for the Aegis app also made it easy for players to think the app was reliable. We don’t know how clear they made it to players that the app is based simply on label claims, not lab tests. Johnson said that many of his teammates weren’t aware of this fact.

Ultimately, third-party lab tests are the only unbiased way to be sure of what you’re taking. Although checking labels may feel reassuring, those labels won’t always disclose the presence of contaminants or drugs. It’s a mistake Johnson probably won’t make again.

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