My training, racing, things that go through my head, memorable moments, and such.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Doping Control

I tried really hard to not write this post. I have a practical exam in three days, as well as two more workouts to do today and assignments coming out of my ears. However there is something about this topic that is sticking to my brain, so finally I decided to let it out.

Due to the cycling community controversies, with Lance Armstrong and Ryder Hesjedal both admitting to doping (unsurprisingly), I (along with almost everybody else) believe that few of the best tour cyclists have been clean their whole careers.  The current sporting culture has reached a peak of finger pointing, blaming, and calls for harsher drug policies, and I don't blame them. A recent study has shown that brief exposures to anabolic steroids may have permanent muscle-growth effects, which definitely makes the current 2 year ban for doping offenders ineffective. I am completely against doping in sport, am all for random drug testing, and I love that research into this area is flourishing, as this is the only way we can have fair sport. As an elite athlete, I like to believe that I am on the same playing field as my competitors, and the only way to ensure this is so is to have a great system in place to detect dopers.

Now on to the main topic of my post. Recently a young female triathlete (technically my direct competition) tested positive for high levels of testosterone. Despite the fact that I don't know her at all, it is in my best interest for her to be banned, and for all I know she may be a doper, I don't think she purposefully or intentionally took a performance enhancing substance. I do believe that due to the fact that she tested positive she now must be kept on a very tight leash, however I do not think she deserves any finger pointing or bad-mouthing at this time, for a number of reasons.

#1. Testosterone is not a female-friendly aerobic capacity enhancing substance. I do not think any semi- intelligent woman would take testosterone to improve their results in triathlon. Firstly, testosterone is a strength enhancing, muscle-mass building, hormone. There is little to no evidence that it increases endurance performance. This is why when we are talking about drug use in cycling (which is a sport very similar to triathlon), we are mainly taking about EPO and blood transfusions, not testosterone use. Sure having bigger, stronger muscles may help in triathlon to a degree, but in my experience most female and male triathletes are hell bent on getting as light and skinny as possible (not saying this is beneficial, only that it is the trend). Women on anabolic steroids such as testosterone will notice a deepening of the voice, increased facial hair, increased body hair, potential male-pattern baldness and aggressiveness, menstrual irregularities and clitoral enlargement. Furthermore, taking exogenous testosterone can cause liver damage, increases your susceptibility to cancer, and is significantly implicated with cardiovascular disease.  Not something that most women in society strive towards. Anabolic steroid use is mainly a threat in sports such as powerlifting, where increased strength and muscle mass is important for performance. Also, anabolic steroids stay in the system for up to six months, and are easily detected in the urine! This is another reason why most cyclists/endurance athletes likely stay away from testosterone as the doping method of choice.
Bodybuilding (potentially on testosterone)
Triathlon (most definitely not on testosterone- hope it's ok if I use your picture as comparison Gwen!)
#2. Triathlon is a not a very hormone friendly sport. Females (surprise surprise) do produce testosterone naturally, and training 20-30 hours a week can significantly impact a woman's natural hormone cycles and hormone balances. One study showed that women who are oligomenorrheic (which I will go out on a limb and say that all female elite triathletes have episodes of oligomenorrhea, if not full blown amenorrhea at some points in their careers) may be so due to hyperandrogenism. Essentially they are either creating too much testosterone in their bodies, or their testosterone to other hormone (estrogen, LH, FSH...) ratio is out of whack. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is often seen as a cause of heightened testosterone in females. However,  heightened stress is implicated in the development of polycysctic ovary syndrome, and training for triathlon is a significant stressor! As a side note, it isn't the cysts on the ovaries that are causing the hormonal imbalances, but rather the hormonal imbalances that are causing the cysts. You can read our post on Athlete Triad syndrome if you wish to learn more about athlete sex hormone imbalances.

#3. Although I agree that athletes are responsible for what goes into their bodies, there are a number of ways that food and supplements can be tainted that could create a positive test despite proper precautions being taken. First of all, there is the case of the athlete who recently tested positive from taking an NSF certified product (sorry I could't find the link). As an athlete who is on the athlete whereabouts program (meaning I enter in where I am every day and can be tested at any time), doesn't that send shivers up your spine? I personally don't entirely believe in supplements as I prefer to just eat real food. However, I do think that in certain cases they are necessary. For example, I have very low iron naturally, and have become anaemic in the past, therefore I must take an iron supplement daily. I also firmly believe in taking probiotics daily for many reasons such as immune health, gut-brain axis health, increasing tolerance to heat etc. As any elite athlete knows, every time you take something you are putting yourself at risk. Therefore every time I take my probiotics, or my iron supplement, I am putting myself at risk. One new article explains how up to 1/3 herbal supplements are not what they seem. Also, one study in 2001 showed that nearly 15% of sports supplements tested positive for undeclared prohibited substances. You also can never know if your "clean" supplement shares a manufacturing system with another company that isn't so clean, causing a clean supplement to actually be dirty in certain batches.

I'm sure I am not alone in having worries after every drug test. Sure it is easy to be perfect the week or so leading up to a competition, but in day to day life was that smoothie you had for lunch (say from Booster Juice) made with NSF certified protein powder? Probably not. What about the bars and gels you consume during workouts? Are you in a foreign country eating tainted meat? As an athlete I think you would have to be rather naive to not have these slight niggles in the back of your mind every time you are tested. We live in a chemical, hormonally tainted world, and it is very hard to escape it.

So there you go. Although I am 100% against doping in sport, I just feel as though having a little compassion for athletes when the tests are a little wishy-washy would be nice. As a spectator, it is easy to point fingers and call names while you blissfully walk around taking a little herbal supplement here, a protein shake there, and maybe a tylenol cold when you feel stuffy.

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