Drugs in Bodybuilding
Since man first sought to extend his physical prowess to improve his chances of success, whether in combat or organized sports, he has turned to additional help in the form of ergogenic aids, substances that directly influence a particular aspect of physiological functioning to boost performance beyond one?s natural capabilities.
Broadly speaking, ergogenic aids range from something as simple as a glass of water to the highly advanced anabolic steroid combinations that are now commonplace in sport.
Over recent decades the need to advance physically has brought a whole new series of challenges, as athletes have increasingly sought more sophisticated ways to outperform the competition. This heightened need to be bigger, faster and stronger necessitated the strongest possible ergogenic intervention: performance enhancing and facilitating drugs.
While some of these substances, like anabolic-androgenic steroids, directly build size and strength, others like diuretics enable the body to quickly drop size thus rapidly streamlining the physique to make a certain weight class and still others such as the stimulants, which provide increased alertness and an ability to train harder for longer, all give athletes the decided edge over their non-partaking rivals.
In fact, such are the advanced chemical approaches many athletes today take when preparing for competition, it could be said sport has become chemical warfare, a battle fought just as hard in the lab as on the playing field.
From the primitive caffeine, cocaine and alcohol stack used by cyclists in the 19th century to the complex synergism of multiple, highly evolved substances such as the fat burning aid Clenbuterol, strong diuretics, stimulants, and combination of anabolic-androgenic steroids, drug use in sport has progressed in line with technological advancement in general.
Some might say it was only a question of time before athletes began seeking an alternative, yet supporting, performance edge to that of their training programs and cutting edge diets.
The truth is, the need to enhance performance - if we consider the broader meaning of the term ergogenic aid - has been inherent in man throughout the existence of sport and combat, which in light of the advanced survival skills needed to compete and prosper, can be traced back to the beginning of time, since the first fist was thrown, the first ball kicked.
But no longer are the grape skins once fashionable among Zulu Warriors to enhance their fighting prowess sufficient to box at high intensity over 12 gruelling rounds of a major title fight.
No longer is the raw egg, injections of strychnine and gulping of brandy that pushed marathon runner Thomas Hicks to victory at the 1904 St Louis Olympics potent enough to create the superhuman efforts needed to clean and jerk 250 kilograms to become an Olympic champion or to build a set of 22 inch biceps to become Mr. Olympia.
As time progressed, athletes became smarter and their drug repertoire increased in tandem with their burgeoning cognitive capacities. Sportspeople could no longer rely on standard training and nutritional approaches to excel in their chosen discipline.
By the mid ?50s, drug use in sport was becoming accepted among athletes as a necessity rather than a desirable adjunct to their training and nutrition programs?. The sporting world was increasingly becoming an experimental outlet for all manner of drug use. Various sporting bodies were afraid of where it would all lead.
Not only were athletes winning based on what they were consuming and injecting, some were dying allegedly as a result of their intake of performance enhancing substances.
In response to the modern day warrior?s need to excel physically, and specifically after several fatalities involving drug using athletes, notably Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen, who died during the 1960 Rome Olympic Games and was found to have traces of amphetamine in his blood, were noted, sporting agencies began to explore the possibility of drug testing.
In 1928 the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) became the first sporting federation to ban doping (the use of chemicals to aid performance). But this ban largely proved futile, as there was no drug testing in place to enforce it. This drug dilemma was compounded through the early 1930s advent of synthetic substances, most notable pure testosterone, the male sex hormone that promotes aggression, strength and muscle hypertrophy.
With no testing in place athletes were free to experiment with various types of drugs, many of which were being developed in response to the increasing needs of the hard training athlete, and a performance enhancement drug revolution of sorts, flourished.
By the time testing was in place, in 1962 with the UCI (cycling) and FIFA (football) sporting bodies, athletic organizations had a major task on their hands.
After the high profile 1967 death of cyclist Tom Simpson on the Tour de France and armed with knowledge of how heavily entrenched drugs were becoming in sport, the IOC (international Olympia Committee) began testing for the first time - at the 1968 Olympic Winter Games.
Although by the early 1970s all International Federations (IF) had introduced drug testing, the substances tested for were limited to stimulants, and by then anabolic-androgenic steroids, the world?s predominantly abused performance drugs were a regular part of the international sporting scene.
Agencies knew this so once a reliable testing method had been found, anabolic-androgenic steroids were tested for, the first time being in 1976.
Since then, many athletes, mostly those requiring additional strength and size, have been tested positive for banned substances, including steroids. When Ben Johnson was found to have used the anabolic steroid Stanozolol to allegedly win the 100 meters sprint at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the non-athletic world, witness to the media maelstrom that followed, became more aware of the extent to which drugs were a factor in sport.
Since the Johnson affair, international sport has been plagued by drug scandals and this has cast a negative light over the athletes, their respective sports and, by implication, the countries they represent.
The biggest problem concerning the association of drugs with sport, was the disorganization surrounding the various testing policies, governing bodies and sports authorities, a state that would often result in differences of opinion on policy, sanction, definition and the procedures used and to what extent as they related to the use of and testing for certain drugs.
This highlighted the need for an independent international testing agency and so was established the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on November 10, 1999. This led to the formation of a uniform set of anti-doping rules (the World Anti-Doping Code) to be adhered to by sports organizations the world over.
On March 5, 2003, at the second World Conference on Doping in Sport, a unanimous agreement to adopt this code was made between 1200 delegates representing 80 governments, the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), all Olympic sports, national Olympic and Paralympic committees, athletes and national anti-doping organizations.
Since the establishment of the WADA World Anti-Doping Code, many thousands of athletes have been subject to rigorous drug testing in the hopes that international competitors compete on a level playing field, potential health risks are minimized and performance is judged on natural talent rather than advanced chemical assistance.
But, admirable as the testing policies and practices might be, they are far from perfect. Take bodybuilding for example. At the amateur level, where anabolic-androgenic steroids are commonplace, and under the directives of the WADA, bodybuilders are subject to random testing.
With this practice there are several problems, most notable of these being a perceived lack of transparency among athletes and their assistants. If one athlete is tested positive, who is to say the next is not positive also and the next, and so on. But across the board testing might not be practical, financially or otherwise.
Another major problem with drug testing in amateur bodybuilding - which is predominantly done via analysis of the constituents of urine - is the lengths many competitors will go to beat the test. While some use various masking agents, designed to cover all traces of a specific drug, or drugs, others will conceal the urine of other people on their person and pass this off as their own.
With all the advances in the war on drugs in sport, is the situation any better? Yes and no. With advanced testing procedures have come better reliability and a higher success rate in testing for commonly used drugs, but with equal progress in the formulation of different types of designer substances, the advent of genetic engineering and the random nature of current detection protocols, athletes are managing to stay one step ahead as exemplified by the seemingly never ending supply of bigger, faster and stronger sportsmen and women.
The way things are playing out now, it seems drugs will forever be an intrinsic part of an athlete?s need to outperform the competition, smash personal records and excel at the highest level.
Two major arguments surrounding this situation currently exist: given current protocols are thought in many quarters to be flawed we must tighten testing procedures and conduct testing more frequently, and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, since athletes will continue to use drugs regardless of any possible health consequences and will often take dangerous routes (high doses of diuretics in some cases) to avoid detection, educate them on how to use performance drugs correctly.
The former argument takes a hard lined approach to drug testing while the latter realizes the futility of trying to stem the tide of athletes who do whatever it takes to succeed which, ironically ultimately creates as much of an unlevel playing field as does banning drugs from sport completely.
With the current blanket ban there are those willing to use and those afraid to do so. With a carefully monitored approach to the governance of drug usage, perhaps competitors will be less likely experiment with dangerous combinations of drugs and safer alternative drugs can be found.
Whatever the case, man will always search for new and effective ways to improve. In the sporting sphere this ultimately means the use of sophisticated performance-enhancing drugs.
To get an insider?s look at this most contentious of issues, I recently spoke with a man who works with many top-level amateur (not an oxymoron) bodybuilders, the Middle East?s most successful contest specialization guru, Ali Amini.
Why is drug testing conducted? Who performs the tests and how is this done? What drugs are tested for and what are some of the ways bodybuilder?s seek to beat them? What masking agents are used and why? What are the best drugs to cycle in the weeks leading up to testing time? What problems are inherent in the current drug testing system? These questions and more are answered in the following interview.