Over 70 per cent of elite college rugby players regularly use sports supplements, placing them at risk of accidental doping now and making them more likely to intentionally dope in the future, a survey by Drug Free Sport New Zealand and Otago University has found.
The anonymous survey of 142 college rugby players from seven teams found 71 per cent had regularly used an average of 4.4 supplements over the preceding six months.
One player reported using nine supplements on a daily basis.
The results showed the taking of supplements had become normalised at college level and a lack of knowledge about the dangers of supplements spiked with banned ingredients meant the players are at risk of accidently committing a doping infringement, Drug Free Sport NZ chief executive Graeme Steel said.
The Herald this week reported that the pre-workout supplement Frenzy contained the banned psychoactive stimulant DMBA. In a hidden-camera trial, the Herald was also sold a supplement, Mesomorph 2.0, that contains up to three substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Authority.
International research had indicated that up to 15 per cent of supplements were tainted with banned substances.
"There is lots of dodgy stuff out there and we are not sure secondary school athletes are tuned in to what the dangers are," Mr Steel said.
"They have a sense there may be some safety issues but they don't really know what they are. They just seem to put them to the side."
The survey also assessed the students' views on doping and estimated how at risk they were of cheating in the future. Students answered 17 questions about doping and were rated on a Performance Enhancement Attitude Scale (PEAS), with a higher score indicating a more accepting attitude to doping.
The average score of the New Zealand college rugby players (41) was above that of university students in America (38), Canada (38) and the United Kingdom (36) and secondary school students in Australia (40).
"These comparisons would suggest that the potential risk of New Zealand high school rugby players being engaged in doping is real," the study states.
Students who took supplements typically scored higher on the PEAS scale than those who didn't, international research has shown.
The survey also found that 54 per cent of players would report an opponent for doping but only 42 per cent would report a team-mate.
Mr Steel questioned the advice students were getting at schools.
King's College headmaster Mike Leach said questions over how schools dealt with supplement use were timely and he would raise the issue at the next meeting of the New Zealand Secondary Schools Sports Council. King's had no specific policy on supplement use but advice about their use would be included in health and physical education programmes and he was a confident the school's coaches provided students with sound nutritional advice.
Mr Leach, who as chairman of the Auckland Secondary Schools Heads Association is responsible for running college sport in the region, said it might also be time for College Sport Auckland to provide a firm policy and advice on supplement use.
Mt Albert Grammar head Dale Burden said his school did not have a policy on supplement use as they were legal to use. However, students were encouraged not to use them.
"We just educate. At the end of the day we want them to make educated decisions and as far as I am aware there is no supplements use, except for maybe taro. That's about it."
Frenzy obviously unsafe: sports firm
The director of an online sports supplement company says there was "no way in hell" he would have stocked the now-banned exercise supplement Frenzy as it was obvious it would likely be unsafe or illegal.
Andrew Bailey of Hamilton-based Sportsfuel.co.nz said many New Zealand supplement sellers had made the decision not to stock Frenzy - which was removed from sale this week after a Herald investigation - and he was disappointed when the product had surfaced here recently.
He said the publicity over Frenzy's predecessor, Craze, which was found to contain methamphetamine analogues, meant it was obvious there would likely be a problem with Frenzy. The fact that at least four supplement retailers had stocked Frenzy had tainted the industry's reputation, Mr Bailey said.
"There were a number of my competitors who decided not to stock it but then there were a number who did stock it and, unfortunately, we all get dragged in."
It was difficult to be certain that all of his company's products were free of illegal or dangerous substances. "It can be hard. As a retailer, you don't have any control because I don't make the product. But that is a bit of a cop-out because I can still make the decision to buy off distributors that I trust and I can still make the decision if I have doubts about a product to not stock it."