The use of Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sport.

This is it. The stage is set, the fireworks are ready and the flame is making its way to its final resting place. Anxious, rising sports stars travel with their teams and coaches, hoping to make their countries proud by winning an abundance of gold, silver, and bronze. Four years of planning and preparation about to transpire with the long-anticipated opening ceremony of the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. But is the Olympics all fun and games? Or is there a darker side to one of our most beloved sporting events?

The use of performance-enhancing drugs or doping is something that often casts a shadow over many of our favorite sports. Whether it’s your chosen cyclist or preferred ping pong player, it seems there is always someone willing to go to the extreme in order to reach their goal.

What are Performance Enhancing Drugs?

The World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) defines performance-enhancing drugs as the substances and methods prohibited in- and out-of-competition, and in particular sports.” There are a number of categories that doping falls into including steroids, stimulants, and gene doping.


Most people have heard of steroids. We have all seen that guy in the gym; you know the one I mean, with his t-shirt three sizes too small and biceps four sizes too big? He often also looks like he is carrying an oversized carpet under each arm? Ok, moving on.

Steroids were first synthesized in the 1930s with their use being widely known in the 1940s. Steroids increase protein in cells, which in turn, increases both muscle mass and strength. Hence, steroids are known to be most popular amongst weightlifters and bodybuilders (surprise, surprise!) Steroids were first used instead of testosterone, which gives the user similar results but with countless negative side effects.  Steroids are listed as the number one group of banned substances on the WADAs “Prohibited List – January 2016”.


HGH has a similar use to that of steroids. It is the use of a hormone that regenerates cells, giving greater muscle mass and strength. Although HGH is known to have been used since at least 1982, it can not be detected by a standard urine test, therefore, was previously incredibly difficult to prove. After 2000, specialist blood tests were developed in order to identify the use of HGH and were used widely by WADA at the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece.


When you perform aerobic activity, your red blood cells carry oxygen from your lungs to your muscles. The maximum volume of oxygen that your body can use is called your V02 max. The better your V02 max, the more endurance you have and the better your performance. EPO and blood doping are two methods athletes use to increase their V02 max and in turn, boost their performance.

EPO is the use of a specific hormone that controls the production of red blood cells. Blood doping, however, is the practice of removing red blood cells and storing them only to inject them back into the body. Both methods give the athlete a higher volume of red blood cells during competition.


These improve focus and alertness. Dopaminergic stimulants (e.g., reuptake inhibitors and releasing agents) also affect cognitive and athletic performance by improving muscle strength and endurance while decreasing reaction time and fatigue; some examples of athletic performance-enhancing stimulants are caffeine, ephedrine, and amphetamine.


What are the Negative Effects of Doping?

So, you’ve been using steroids for several months and you now have the body of a Greek Adonis with the strength of seven men. Sounds great! But what are the downsides to using performance-enhancing drugs? Well frankly, there are countless negative effects. Not only does each individual substance have its own side effects, but all can be addictive and in some cases, their use fatal. Of course, that is the extreme. But let us just take a look at some of the everyday side effects of steroids:

In Men:

  • Acne
  • Male Pattern Baldness
  • Increase in Estrogen
  • Erectile Dysfunction
  • Breast Formation (Gynecomastia)

In Women:

  • Hair Loss
  • Irregularities of the Menstrual Cycle
  • Development of Masculine Facial Traits


So why do Athletes use Performance Enhancers?

The simple answer? Some people will do just about anything to get what they want, regardless of the consequences. For many, the need to succeed is as addictive as any drug and of course, they hope they won’t get caught! Obviously, for some, the benefits they gain from doping (boosting performance) outweigh the negatives. Not only this, with such significant amounts of money now available in sport, it is becoming even more tempting


Famous Athletes Caught Doping

Probably one of the most well-known examples of a recognized sports star being caught doping is that of Lance Armstrong.

After beating testicular cancer, the renowned cyclist had an astounding seven Tour De France wins. He was then suspected of using EPO as a means of enhancing performance. In 2012, Armstrong was stripped of all of his titles since 1998. He later confessed publicly to his use of performance enhancers during an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

From an Olympic perspective, here are a few of the major names caught cheating…

  • Ben Johnson, Seoul, 1988
  • Boris Onischenko, Montreal, 1976
  • Fred Lorz, St Louis, 1904
  • Ewa Klobukowska, Tokyo, 1964
  • Hans-Gunnar Liljenwall, Mexico City, 1968
  • Dong Fangxiao, Sydney, 2000
  • Marion Jones, Sydney, 2000


What are the Penalties if Caught Doping?

The International Association of Athletics Federations was the first body to ban doping in 1928. However, FIFA and the Union Cyclist Internationale also joined the fight against performance enhancers in 1966, with the International Olympic Committee swiftly following suit a year later.

In most cases, the penalty if caught is a lifetime ban from the sport as well as being stripped of any achievements or titles. However, an athlete can also lose professional sponsorship, advertising contracts, or in the case of Lance Armstrong, be forced to retire from any charities they may be involved with.

Let’s hope that these long-awaited Olympic Games continue without any controversy! But, before you think about taking any kind of performance enhancers yourself, just think, you might end up with muscles like Hulk Hogan, but you will probably also have to wear a bra to the gym!