Common Meds Olympic Athletes Must Forgo to Avoid Testing Positive for Doping

List of banned substances includes some common over-the-counter drugs.

— -- Olympic athletes may spend years planning, training and preparing for that elusive chance to win a gold medal, but they can risk losing it all by taking something as seemingly innocuous as a common cold medication on the day of the competition.

Athletes must be careful that they don't take a medication given by a doctor to clear up a bad cold, since it's up to them to stay free of banned substances on the day of competition. The U.S. Anti-Doping Association advises athletes to stop taking the drugs a few days before they have to compete.

"They have a banned list [World Anti-Doping Agency officials] put out," said Dr. Dennis Cardone, an orthopedic surgeon and a sports medicine physician at NYU Langone Medical Center. "Athletes ... it's their responsibility to make sure [their drugs are] not on the banned list."

"There's a warning that most of these substances aren’t well controlled," he said, explaining that a variety of banned ingredients may show up in supplements. "In general, they should just avoid" supplements because of that risk.

However, anti-doping regulations are more lenient now for athletes who may want to indulge in a few cups of coffee in the morning before a competition.

"Caffeine, interestingly, it used to be banned, but it isn't anymore," said Dr. Andrew Gregory, a sports medicine doctor and an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.