Testosterone is a critical hormone. Hormones are chemical messengers that tell your cells and organs how to behave. Testosterone is an androgenic/anabolic hormone produced in the testes of men and, to a lesser extent, the ovaries of women.
Androgenic means it is responsible for the development of the secondary male sex characteristics, such as beard growth and a deeper voice. Anabolic means testosterone enhances protein synthesis and muscle building.
While women produce testosterone, men have roughly ten times as much, which is why men tend to be stronger, more muscular, and, well, more manly!
Because testosterone is such a valuable hormone, exercisers and athletes often take steps to maximize production.
For example, they may even take supplements called testosterone boosters. However, the use of exogenous (external) testosterone is not allowed in most sports and would result in a failed drugs test.
Exogenous testosterone, better known as anabolic steroids, artificially increases testosterone levels far above normal. This raises the question, can a T-booster cause a failed drug test?
The good news is that used correctly, most T-boosters won’t result in a positive drugs test and are safe and ethical to use. However, you may still need to proceed with caution if you decide to use a T-booster because some still contain banned substances.
What does a T-Booster do?
Most testosterone boosters contain natural ingredients that are thought to increase natural testosterone production. That is to say, they stimulate your body to make more testosterone than it would otherwise. These ingredients are often traditional herbal remedies.
Common. T-boosting ingredients include:
So, to clarify, T-boosters do NOT contain testosterone. Instead, they stimulate your body to produce more testosterone itself. However, while these products can be effective, they won’t raise your T-levels above normal.
Will testosterone boosters show up in urine?
Anything you ingest will show up in your urine. However, the chances of a T-booster being detected in a urine test is very, VERY low, because that’s not what the testers are looking for.
Most urine tests are devised to detect specific compounds and also make sure your testosterone levels are within normal, accepted parameters.
Because herbs like saw palmetto and ginseng are entirely legal to use and not on any banned list, there would be no adverse consequences even if they did show up in a urine test.
However, not all testosterone boosters were created equal, and some may actually contain trace amounts of banned substances. That’s not an issue for the average exerciser, but that could result in a positive drugs test for some athletes.
Avoid accidentally and unnecessarily failing a drugs test by checking the ingredients in the product you’re thinking of using, comparing those ingredients to your sport’s governing body’s list of banned substances, and only buying from reputable supplement manufacturers.
Some companies specifically state their products are certified by the USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency), so you can use them with complete confidence.
Differences between legal testosterone and anabolic steroids
There are two ways to obtain exogenous testosterone – legally and illegally. However, the outcome is the same: artificially elevated testosterone.
But what’s the difference? After all, we’re talking about the same basic substances – anabolic steroids, which are synthetic versions and variations of testosterone.
Legal steroids are prescribed by doctors to treat a legitimate medical condition, such as hypogonadism or after testicular cancer. This treatment aims to restore testosterone levels to normal because the body is unable to produce testosterone naturally.
If an athlete is undergoing testosterone replacement, they must A) declare it before a drug test and B) ensure that their levels do not exceed the accepted natural range. Failure to comply with either of these criteria would result in a positive drugs test.
In contrast, obtaining and using anabolic steroids to boost performance is usually illegal.
These drugs are typically sold on the black market, made in unofficial labs, meant for animal and not human use, or prescribed by shady doctors despite not being needed for medicinal purposes.
Some steroids are legal to buy in other countries, such as Mexico, Thailand, and India, but using them would still result in a drug ban because they’re still classed as banned substances.
Used for performance enhancement, testosterone is often used in much higher doses than for T-replacement. For example, someone on doctor prescribed testosterone may get 200mg every two weeks. In contrast, an athlete using testosterone for sports may take as much as 1000mg a week or more.
So, as you can see, there is a HUGE difference between testosterone replacement and using steroids to boost performance.
Can supplements cause failed drug tests?
There is a thin line between supplements and drugs. Both affect how your body works. However, supplements generally contain naturally occurring substances such as herbs, plant extracts, vitamins, and minerals.
In contrast, drugs contain synthetic chemicals. So, while supplements may have a drug-like effect, they are not actually drugs.
However, because of the potency of some herbs and the fact that some supplements may contain traces of drugs, a supplement could conceivably cause a failed drugs test.
Most sporting bodies have a list of banned substances that should be readily available to all athletes, and it’s up to you to check that none of your supplements are on that list.
The same is true for any medicines you take – even over-the-counter products. For example, some cough and cold medicines contain pseudoephedrine, which is a banned substance in most sports.
Ignorance is not an excuse, and even if you accidentally take something that contains a banned substance, you will still fail your drug test and could even face a lengthy ban from competition.
What can trigger a false positive drug test?
There are a few substances that may result in a failed drugs test. These include:
DHEA – Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a legal testosterone booster that’s on many sports banned substance lists. It’s a “gray” ingredient that may well be classified as a drug in the future and, depending on the type of test you’re subjected to, could trigger a positive result.
Hemp – hemp seeds grow on cannabis plants. They contain almost no THC, which is the psychoactive compound in marijuana. Hemp is a popular supplement and is where CBD oil comes from. However, using too many hemp seed products could result in a positive test for THC/marijuana use.
B-vitamins – some B-vitamin supplements are made from hemp seeds. As such, they may contain trace amounts of THC, triggering a positive drugs test. Many pre-workouts contain B vitamins as they play a crucial role in carbohydrate metabolism and energy production.
Coca – coca is made from the same plant as cocaine. As such, it may result in a positive drugs test. Coca is usually consumed in the form of tea, which is a relaxing, restorative beverage.
How to avoid false-positive tests
Drugs tests are designed to catch athletes (and employees) trying to break the rules. The only sure-fire way to avoid a positive test is by not taking any banned substances.
That said, it’s also possible to get a false positive.
This may happen if you inadvertently consume a banned substance. The only effective way to avoid a false positive is to carefully select the supplements you use and make sure they contain no illegal or banned substances.
Also, make sure you don’t take more than the prescribed amount of any supplements you do choose to use. Take care with OTC medicines, too. Ask your pharmacist about ingredients that may trigger a positive result. Always read the label to ensure you aren’t inadvertently taking something you shouldn’t.
Remember, ignorance is not an acceptable excuse, and a positive test is a positive test even if you consumed banned substances by accident. You may be able to state your case and get a positive test result reversed, but, honestly, who needs the stress?
There are several compounds that will result in a positive drugs test, including anabolic/androgenic steroids, growth hormone, erythropoietin (EPO), and diuretics. These substances are medical drugs, but some athletes use them to boost performance.
However, while their aim is the same, nutritional supplements do not contain these substances, which is why most of them are entirely legal. Dietary supplements have a much milder effect, are generally safe, and are legal to use.
That said, some supplements could result in a false positive, and they should be used with caution.
If you are subject to drug testing, make sure you know what’s in your supplements. Avoid any banned substances, and only buy your products from reputable manufacturers that are approved by your sport’s governing body.
And remember, rules change, and what was legal last year may not be permitted this year. It’s up to you to stay on top of the current regulations. Even caffeine was on the IOC’s list of banned substances once!
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