Athletes and Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports

Athletes and Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports

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  Abstract:  Since the beginning of sports competition, athletes have always looked for some kind of an edge over their competitors.  They will do whatever it takes to be one of the elite and that includes injecting supplements into their bodies to make them bigger, stronger, and faster.  Steroid use is probably one of the most common drug misuses in sports competition.  Athletes found that with anabolic steroids one could become a better athlete twice as fast.  Not until 1975 was the drug first banned from Olympic competition because of the health risks it produced.  Shortly thereafter, the rest of the sports world did not allow anabolic steroids as well.  With the use of steroids no longer permitted athletes began to look for other alternatives.  On the rise is two substances called creatine and androstenedione, both of which are sold over the counter. These two performance enhancers have only had minimal testing done on them, excluding the long-term effects, simply because they haven't been around long enough.  Creatine and androstenedione have been said to produce results like steroids without the side effects.  The truth is they do produce side effects and irregular muscle growth. By banning the use of performance enhancing drugs, just like steroids, sports competition will have a much healthier and fairer environment to participate in.


Performance Enhancing Drugs in Sports

The use of steroids and performance enhancing drugs is a common trend that is currently fascinating athletes all over the world.  Athletes who are using these drugs are damaging the sport and harming their bodies at the same time.  Seeking a greater athletic physique and ability, athletes turned to the use of steroids.  Once the dangers and possible health risks arose, athletes then turned to performance enhancers.  Two specific supplements have taken the sports world by storm and now are being used by athletes of all ages.  They are androstenedione and creatine.  It took years until people began to understand how dangerous steroids really were. These performance enhancers, like androstenedione and creatine are going to produce the same results.


      The use of performance enhancing supplements has long played a role in athletics, especially after the utilization of drug testing was introduced during the 1972 Olympics.

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  Athletes will always be looking for an advantage or something that will give them an edge on competition without being sanctioned.  One author contends, "What is suprising is that 25 years after the introduction of supposedly rigorous drug testing of Olympic athletes, the use of banned performance-enhancing substances has apparently become more widespread, and effective, than ever" (Bamberger, Yaeger).  The majority of high school athletes I have been around believe without the use of performance enhancing supplements they cannot keep up with competition.  This can be easily linked to the popularity of performance enhancers being used by professional athletes and the highly competitive atmosphere of high school athletics. 


      As the rewards become greater, athletes continually look for ways to improve their chances of becoming champions.  A majority of them have turned to drugs, believing that drugs will give them the edge on their opponents.  Drugs are supposed to be given to people who are ill. Taking them to better one's athletic performance is dangerous, sometimes deadly, and considered by most to be cheating.  Drug misuse in sports competition is not only unfair but it jeopardizes the name of the sport.  This is why the use of steroids and performance enhancing drugs must be banned starting at the high school to professional levels of play in preventing unfair advantages and harm to the bodies of the athletes who use them.


Athletes see producing more muscle mass as being better, this is why athletes start using steroids.  Steroids, sometimes called "juice", "gear", or "roids" are probably the best-known drugs of abuse in sports competition.  Anabolic steroids were first developed during World War II for medical purposes, not to alter the physique and ability of athletes.  Anabolic steroids are the derivatives of the male hormone testosterone.  Testosterone starts the maturing of the reproductive system in puberty and the anabolic effect helps the body retain protein, which aids in the development of muscles.  There are a variety of steroids with differing degrees, but it's the anabolic steroid that attracts the athletes because of the great increase in muscle mass and strength.


      Anabolic steroids are manufactured in a pill and liquid form that can be injected into the body.  A user will take steroids for a period of time called a cycle, which usually lasts about two months.  The individual will either stop taking them or reduce the amount that he or she is taking before starting the next cycle.  This is so the body will not become used to the drug.  If the athletes knew their clearance time for an oral or injectable drug they could plan the cycle to end with maximum benefit and less risk of detection (MacAuley 211). 


      The most commonly used form of anabolic steroids is the water-soluble injection.  This is because the side effects that came with the oral form were discovered to be harmful to the liver.  The fact is any kind of anabolic steroid use is not free of side effects, and a price will be paid with both forms.  Both males and females experience serious side effects that makes one gender more like the other.


      Men who use the drug actually experience a "feminization" effect with a decrease of sexual function.  There are other side effects that men may encounter when taking anabolic steroids; reduced sperm count, impotence, development of breasts, shrinking of the testicles, and difficulty or pain while urinating.  On the other hand, women often experience a "masculinization" effect.  Which include facial hair growth, deepened voice, breast reduction, and menstrual cycle changes.  With extensive use of anabolic steroids both sexes can experience acne, bloated appearance, rapid weight gain, clotting disorders, liver damage, premature heart attacks and strokes, elevated cholesterol levels, and weakened tendons (Rogak 22-25).  All of these side effects may range from unsightly to life endangering.


      The use of anabolic steroids by adolescents is very disturbing and is increasing.  Scientists from Pennsylvania State University conducted one survey in 1988 and they interviewed 3,403 male high school students and found that 6.6 percent of them have used or were using steroids (Lukas 17).  At the high school from which I graduated, the use of steroids was popular amongst a large group of kids who were about four years older than me.  The student athlete that comes to mind was an all-star football player.  I can remember seeing him in the weight room lifting an incredible amount of weight looking like he had no thought of what really was taking place to his body.  Anabolic steroids can halt growth prematurely in adolescents, because the drug closes the growth centers in their bones.  Once these plates close, they cannot reopen, so the adolescents who choose to use steroids may end up shorter than they should have been.


      Not only do anabolic steroids cause physical side effects, they also cause behavioral side effects as well.  The user may become hyperactive and unusually irritable.  Some athletes take steroids to become more aggressive. This aggression cannot be turned on and off whenever desired and is commonly known as a "roid rage," an uncontrollable fit of anger.  Athletes who under go a "roid rage" may hit things or people, brakes things, or even sexually harass females.  Aggression can become so bad one author describes, "One steroid-user in Boston, Massachusetts, became uncontrollably angry when another car driver "cut him off" on the street.  He got out and smashed the other car's window with a crowbar" (Mohun 34).  Out of the group of guys in my high school who were using steroids I can remember two of them having these rages.  They would get extremely mad and beat people up for very petty reasons. 


      Just like any other drug, long term steroid users and steroid abusers may experience the characteristics of addiction.  These may include cravings, difficulty stopping steroid use, and withdrawal.  When regular steroid users stop taking the drug they experience withdrawal pains, and when they start the use again the pain goes away.  The steroid users have difficulty stopping use even though they know the drug is bad for them.  Recently I ran into one of those students from my high school and he hasn't changed one bit, he is still very big and has a terrible temper. 


      There are a number of different reasons why people choose to use anabolic steroids.  Most athletes choose to use the drug to help them play their sport better.  Others use steroids to either prevent an injury or help them heal from one.  Some athletes decide to use steroids to simply improve their appearance and feel better about their bodies.


      The risk people take when using anabolic steroids is very high in harming their bodies.  People have died from steroid use.  Professional football star Lyle Alzado took steroids beginning in 1967 and in 1992 he passed away from brain cancer.  Long-term steroid abuse deteriorates our immune system that fights off viruses, bacteria, and the occasional cancer cell.   A young body builder at the age of twenty-six died of liver cancer from a variety of anabolic steroids.  There have also been two other reports of death in the result of kidney cancer because the athletes had reportedly been taking steroids (Mohun 33).  If authorities actually enforce the use against steroids we wouldn't have individuals like the ones at my high school.  More importantly these individual wouldn't be dying prematurely in their life.  With such well known side effects about steroids, more and more athletes are turning to the unfamiliar products of creatine and androstenedione.


      Since the first Olympics, athletes have been looking for ways to get an edge on the competition.  Dietary supplements have been one strategy, but until recently, primarily hard-core fitness enthusiasts used them.  Nowadays athletes of all ages are going to nutritional stores to purchase supplements that are supposed to improve one's athletic performance with out any risk of harming their bodies, or so they think.  In today's society athletes are starting to use on muscle enhancing drugs at earlier ages.  Coaches and parents are encouraging kids to start using supplements as soon as they reach the high school level of play.  There are colleges all around the country whose athletic department will supply these supplements for their athletes and encourage its use.  One of the supposedly safest forms of these supplements is creatine.


       Creatine was first identified in 1935 but wasn't introduced as a supplement until six years ago (Winters 44).  Creatine is a nutrient that is naturally found in the human body, just like steroids.  It is an amino acid produced in the liver, kidneys and pancreas.  There are three different amino acids that make this supplement up and they are arginine, glycine, and methionine.  It can also be acquired in the diet through animal proteins, milk and fish.  Creatine helps provide the same energy our muscles need to create movements that are powerful and explosive as steroids do. 


      "Some studies show creatine supplements do enhance sports performance, but only in activities that require repeated short bursts of high-intensity energy, such as sprints and weight lifting (Environmental Nutrition 7).  I don't understand why athletes of any other sports want to take a supplement that is going to bulk them up and most likely slow them down.  So why do Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire use this performance-enhancing product?  The answer is because Sosa believes that in taking creatine after his games it allows him to keep his weight and strength up (Legal).  Mark McGwire takes creatine because he believes it aids him in recovering faster from vigorous daily weightlifting.  Another reason is because it is legal unlike steroids and they are bulking up their muscles if they like it or not, just like steroids.


      The use of creatine has an increasing appeal among teen athletes because they can increase the size of their physique while trying to improve their performance.  High school athletes all over the country are experimenting with creatine. One year they are an average athlete, and the next year they come back as an all-star.  Steve Henson of the Los Angeles Times reported that student athlete David Neill was just an average football player his junior year.  In the off season he hit the weight-room very hard and started taking creatine.  The following fall he returned forty pounds heavier.  By the seasons end David Neill had earned all-star honors and surprisingly a college scholarship to boot.


      Creatine is supposed to increase water content in the muscles therefore giving the muscle greater size. David Neill increased his weight forty pounds by putting on water weight along with his newly acquired muscles.  To put on that much weight in less than one year, one would think he had taken a large amount of creatine and spent a fortune.  There is no question, he did.  "Teenage athletes have spurred creatine's sales, which have nearly quadrupled in two years to an estimated $180 million, according to the Nutrition Business Journal" (Henson), each athlete is spending around twenty to forty dollars a month on their supplies.  Not only does this prevent an unfair advantage to the athletes who don't use creatine, but it is now unfair to the once competitive athletes who cannot afford to spend the money on supplements. This is a great example how creatine presents unfair advantages to the athletes who choose not to use the drug.  If the use of this legal steroid were banned before David Neill had used it, he wouldn't have had the chance to take the potential scholarship of perhaps somebody more deserving.


      Adolescents figure that, instead of risking their life with the dangerous and illegal use of steroids, they can receive the same results from supplementing creatine into their diet.  Creatine is still under debate about whether or not it is completely safe.  One thing is for sure, the long term side effects are unknown.  As one author confirms, "...all of these studies were conducted for a period of no more than one month...they do not specifically measure how individuals respond to creatine use over the course of several months or years" (Sahelian, Tuttle 21).  This should frighten a lot of people because athletes could use steroids and not until years later would they experience the harmful side effects.  Just for that reason some individuals and Universities will decide against use of the product.   If you think about it, these athletes who continue to use creatine basically trust what the manufacturers of the product are telling them and not what certified physicians are saying.  Creatine does not sound like an appealing or safe substance for anyone to put into their body.


Still, creatine is widely used amongst the collegian level of competition as well.  At the University of Washington, "About 60 percent of the players on the Husky football use creatine during the offseason" (Allen).  At this level the football players know about the lack of knowledge that comes with taking creatine. Colleges all over the world are testing creatine and other performance enhancing drugs for harmful side effects. Unfortunately until there are life threatening consequences athletes will continue to use this product.


      Although the long-term effects have yet to be found, there has been reported cases of short-term effects that can be related to some creatine users.  One researcher states, "Anecdotal reports of muscle cramping, diarrhea and dehydration abound, along with two published cases of kidney dysfunction" (Environmental Nutrion 7).  One place creatine is produced is in the kidney's, and adding more of something that the body already produces is more than likely to have a harmful effect.  Steroids did the same thing, they attacked portions of the body to which it was derived from. 


My friends in high school who were taking this muscle enhancer complained of getting frequent headaches and one friend complained of getting acne on his back.  All these side effects are different with each individual who chooses to take creatine and as time goes on people are going to start getting proven life threatening side effects. If the substance were to be banned, all this would be avoided, and people wouldn't have to sit and wait to see what causes people to become ill.  If this process of forbiddance doesn't take place, athletes will continue to feel pressure to use the supplement.


      Most teenagers begin using creatine because people around them are using the drug.  They may see someone in the weight-room that is using it and raising his performance above theirs or see a teammate who is using it and having the same outcome.  This person will probably feel left behind and strive to keep pace.  From this, some experts believe that athletes will start to feel that they need something artificial to aid them in prospering in competition and this may lead to the use of anabolic steroids or anything that is going to improve ones ability (Henson).


      "Studies have shown that roughly a third of individuals trying creatine supplementation appear unable to absorb the extra amounts into their muscles and, as a result, experience no improvements in muscle mass or athletic performance" (Tarlach 56).  Most of these individuals are experiencing the side effects without seeing any form of positive result.  Most likely they keep pumping the supplements into their body at a greater amount hoping for some kind of a positive outcome and this is where the most danger comes to play.  Without knowing what creatine might do to your body in the long run should be frightening enough, but doubling or even tripling the dosage is the most dangerous thing an athlete can do.  Athletes will soon get tired of waiting for the benefits and turn to a more improved supplement, which has a greater amount of unknown information.  For many of them the answer is androstenedione, which isn't at all any better for the human body.


      Androstenedione is a hormone found in animals, plants such as pine pollen, and the adrenal glands and gonads of humans.  "Andro," as it is referred to by the athletes who use it, is controversial because the body turns the supplement into the male sex hormone testosterone through enzymes within the liver (Almond).  With this newly acquired uplift in testosterone, athletes are now able to train harder, longer, and build muscles at a rapid pace.   Basically, androstenedione is a steroid converted by the liver and some experts do consider it to be an anabolic steroid.  The drug's ability to raise the level of the male hormone is seen outside of baseball as cheating and potentially dangerous.  The International Olympic Committee, National Collegiate Association and the National Football League all find the supplement to be cheating and have banned the use within their sport.


      "Don Catlin, director of the Olympic-accredited UCLA drug-testing laboratory, said the molecular structure of androstenedione so closely resembles testosterone that it is difficult to tell them apart" (Almond).  If you can put more testosterone into your body's natural ability you are going to see increased muscle mass and overall size that other athletes would dream of producing.  Just like how steroids increased one's testosterone, androstenedione ultimately does the same thing but legaly.


      This supplement is extremely powerful and if you take enough of androstenedione at one time it can be like pumping strait testosterone into your body.  Androstenedione comes in a capsule form and is sold over the counter at nutritional outlets all over the county because it is considered a dietary supplement.  Considering the use of andro as dietary supplement is very interesting because it goes into the body and is inactive.  Not until the liver aids the drug does it become active and produce tissue just as anabolic steroids do.  Andro, just like creatine has not been studied for long but it seems to be a greater harm for the body because it so closely resembles anabolic steroids.


      Androstenedione's increase in testosterone offers the powerful benefits similar to those of the supplement creatine.  The only difference is that the side effects can be much greater.  Having more testosterone that your body normally produces can cause problems that are related to anabolic steroids.  Aggression, acne, and hair loss is common with androstenedione.  With any sudden increase in muscle mass you can come across shriveling in the testicles or sterility (Winters 44).  Just like steroids, over a longer period of time testosterone can cause cancer, heart and liver disease.  These are very serious side effects, so it would make sense to ban the use of the supplement.  Its not like you can go out and purchase testosterone over the counter, at least not without a triplicate prescription (Legal). So why should you be able to go out and purchase something like andro over the counter?


      There have always been dangers associated with drugs that boost your testosterone level.  Just because not a lot of research has been done on androstenedione does not makes it safe.  The major problem with this is that superstar athletes are taking this supplement and showing tremendous results like Major League Baseball's home-run record holder Mark McGwire.  This country has roughly six million students who participate in high school sponsored sports.  For many of them, professional athletes like Mark McGwire are a major role model.  If he is taking a supplement that has improved his performance, just think of the impact on these younger athletes training habits.  One thing for sure about the product is that adolescents should not take androstenedione because very little is known on how it will effect their hormonal balance (Almond).  There is no way young athletes are going to stop taking this drug just because people don't know how it is going to effect them.  All they know is that Mark McGwire is using it and he is pounding sixty to seventy home runs a year.  To them that means it is safe.

      Recently Major League Baseball has put the use of androstenedione under review for this very reason.  Mark McGwire has taken a lot of flack on his use of the substance.  He reported that he stopped his use last June, that is probably because users are supposed to cycle their dosage, just like steroids, and the two month cycle had ended.  Some people like to argue that he would not hold baseballs thirty seven year old home run record if he wasn't currently taking androstenedioene.  A lot of other people disagree, especially all the high school athletes standing in line at their local nutrional store with a bottle of the unknown substance called androstenedione, hoping on becoming baseballs next hero.

      The normal testosterone in teenage boys has gotten them in enough trouble.  Just imagine if they started taking something that increases the level of testosterone just because the most powerful hitter in professional baseball did.  Not only could we have angry teens that couldn't control their temper, we could have teenage baseball players with stunted growth and abnormally large breasts.

      So far there has been no creditable scientific data that suggests androstenedione is a schedule three drug. A schedule three drug is illegal to posses without a prescription (Almond).  What Mark McGwire did last season was one of the single greatest feats ever achieved in baseball and it was perfectly legal within baseball's drug policy.  He is a true power hitter don't get me wrong.  But with the controversy on his record and having a teenage son who also plays baseball maybe he should consider putting down the substance that has allegedly aided him towards the record.  He should prove to the rest of the sports world that androstenedione did not effect his performance.  McGwire takes andro to build muscle mass and to aid recovery, and as a power hitter this is exactly what he needs to succeed.  Another power hitter Andres Galarraga believes, "You have to be careful what you take.  It could cause secondary problems with your body" (Legal).

      Knowing all this I can't figure out why anyone would risk following the lead of "BigMac," Sammy Sosa, or any other athlete who uses a supplement to supposedly aid his recovery or boost his performance.  While some manufacturer's claim that andro works just as good as steroids with out any side effects, others refuse to sell the performance enhancing drug because they don't see it safe.  "GNC, a national chain of nutritional outlets, no longer sells the product because of the scarcity of data about its safety..." (Almond).  Although some stores refuse to sell this product, there is always going to be something new out there that will find its way around being illegal and probably show better results.  This is why the banning of all performance enhancing drugs should be upheld.

      The major problem with androstenedione and creatine monohydrate is that they both lack research, so people just assume they are safe. Another problem is they both are considered to be dietary supplements.  Because they are labeled as dietary supplements they don't have to meet the Federal Drug Administration's guidelines for safety (Winters 44).  This is not the most comforting thing to know when people are supplementing something into their bodies to alter the way it develops.

The only safe way for an athlete to avoid problems of side effects from steroids, creatine, and androstenedione is to not take anything at all. The only way in preventing athletes from doing this is by banning the use of all performance enhancing drugs.  By simply telling the athletes that they might die in twenty years from the possible side effects doesn't work.  That has already been proven with steroids. If you tell an athlete that they will not be able to play the game that they love, then athletes will stop the use and the harm that they are doing not only to themselves, but to the name of the sport as well.


Works Cited

Almond, Elliot, "Are muscle enhancers fair game?"  Seattle Times.  August 28, 1998: n.pag. Online. Internet. Available WWW:

Allen, Percy, "Husky notes: Some players use Creatine during offseason training" 

Seattle Times. September 25, 1998: n.pag. Online. Internet. Available WWW:

Bamberger, Michael and Don Yaeger, "Over the edge."  Sports Illustrated.  April 14,
1997: p60

Cable News Network/Sports Illustrated. Legal in baseball. August 22, 1998. Available

"Creatine Use by Athletes Overshadows Potential to Aid Muscle Disorders" Environmental Nutrition. October 1999: p7

Henson, Steve, "Power Powder" The Los Angeles Times. July 29, 1998: Online.
Internet. Available WWW:

Lukas, Scott E., Steroids.  Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1994.

MacAuley, Domhnall, "Drugs in Sports." British Medical Journal. July 27, 1996. p211

Mohun, Janet, Drugs, Steroids, and Sports. New York, NY. Franklin Watts, 1988.

Rogak, Lisa A., Steroids: dangerous game. Minneapolis, Lerner Publications Company, 1992.

Sahelian, Ray, and Tuttle, Dave, Creatine: Nature's Muscle Builder.  Garden City Park, New York, Avery Publishing Group, 1997.

Tarlach, Gemma M., "Creatine controversy: misleading coverage taints dietry Supplement." Drug Topics. February 2, 1998. p56.

Winters, John, "Bottled Beefcake." Playboy, January 1999. p44.   

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