Drugs, part 1: PED’s

Everyone and their mother seems to have a very clear opinion on drugs. It’s rare that I find someone who’s indifferent about it. I find that many people really lack proper knowledge on the subject, and I have a hard time wrapping my head around some people’s opinions when it comes to drugs, specifically performance enhancing drugs (PED’s). People talk about it “not being natural”, somehow thinking that diets, supplements and well periodized training regimens are natural. They say it’s not healthy, as they light up another cigarette. They say it’s “not fair”, as if it’s fair that we’re born with different genetics and are not all equally supported through government funding. It’s as if people base their opinion on emotion and social conditioning, rather than hard facts. (Then again, I guess that what makes us human.)

My first experience with drugs that I can remember would be when I was 9 years old or so. My mom and all her friends smoked cigarettes. A lot of cigarettes. Since they all did it, I wanted to try it too and my mom was happy to oblige. She gave me a cigarette, I gave it a try and my first response was along the lines of “AUGHHHHBLARGHAGHWHYYYYIMDYING”. I’ve had an intense disgust for cigarettes ever since. Good call, mom.

My second experience was when I was 14. Basically, everyone around me started drinking so I joined in. I got bored with it, hardly noticed any effects even when drinking a lot, didn’t like most of the types of booze anyway, saw people doing stupid shit when drunk and I quit drinking when I was 15. I’m 26 now and haven’t had a sip ever since then. I have no trouble with people drinking and I still appreciate the gesture when someone offers me a drink, I just don’t feel any need to drink.

When I got into strength training, I told people “I wasn’t going to use protein powders and creatine because I wanted to do it the natural way”. Little did I realize that daily life in our Western society has very little to do with “the natural way”, try as people might. “Natural” also has nothing to do with good or bad, even though many people like to believe the opposite. Think that chemicals kill? What if we extract chemicals from natural sources or produce them and use them to make medication to cure diseases that could maim and kill, 100 years ago? On the other hand, eat a few hands of bitter almonds and you probably won’t survive. Pretty words like ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ mean less than people tend to think.

Slowly realizing this, I did try a few supplements here and there. Some were a waste of money, some helped, some got me into weird situations. (For example, accidentally overdosing on a fatburner, or rather caffeine, causing me to throw up and having near-blackouts.) Then I got more and more into the world of strength training and overall sports, and found out how incredibly prevalent the use of PED’s (performance enhancing drugs) is. Always being told that it’s bad for you and unfair, I disregarded it as ‘cheating’ and ‘destroying your body’, without even knowing anything about it. When I actually read up on it, I found that it wasn’t as black and white as I thought. For starters, if you use caffeine, drink alcohol or smoke tobacco: you’re already using drugs. If you’re using painkillers: you’re using drugs. Every drug has its uses and its risks, and we should always keep Paracelsus’s famous adage in mind: “It’s the dose that makes the poison.”
I can’t recall where I read it, but someone mentioned that it’s not so much about ‘doing things the natural way’ as it is about ‘doing things the over-the-counter way’. Besides that, it’s not so much about factually improving health as it is about yelling a lot. Using aspirin once won’t kill you, but use it a lot and you can get stomach ulcers. Having your doctor prescribe you low-dosed testosterone injections can greatly improve pretty much everything in your body and your head, but use bigger doses like some pro-bodybuilders do and you better be prepared for the risks of some nasty side-effects.

 

Lance Armstrong got a lot of shit after his extensive use of PED’s finally came out. However, people tend to forget that he was a champion among PED users, not to mention achieving this despite falling victim to cancer.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pro-use nor am I anti-use. The current situation is not ideal (I daresay some of the anti-PED rules are bordering on arbitrary), but allowing all currently banned substances to be used could give the impression that it’s virtually risk-free and stimulate low-level athletes to get doped up when they have no business doing so. Despite not being pro- or anti-, I do value things like honour, respect and good, common sense. Seeing how many PED’s are used in every sport -from chess to cycling, from archery to bodybuilding- I’ve come to realize that since the 60’s, they’ve become an inevitable part of competitive sports. I do, however, have a slight disgust for people who try to substitute PED’s for hard work, dedication and patience. If you’re setting world records -in an environment where PED’s have become an ‘equalizer’, mind you, since pretty much everyone uses there- you will never hear me complain about your use of PED’s. If you’ve been hitting the gym for a year and are simply too fucking lazy to put in the work and decide to turn to a steroid cycle to add a few inches to your 14″ arms: fuck you. I don’t want to have anything to with that. When I’m talking about honour, respect and common sense, I’m not so much referring to ‘adhering to the rules’ as much as I am referring to ‘life’. This goes both in competitive sports and the world outside of it.

After giving this topic a lot of thought, I decided to look for drugs that could aid me in sports without resorting to banned substances. The first was caffeine for more alertness and -unless you use it a lot and build up tolerance- a very slight edge in terms of performance. I use it for competitions and my most important workouts. Unfortunately, several times when I would find a legal substance that would (based on science) improve your performance, it would be on the list of banned substances. At some point I came across a certain substance that seemed like a miracle drug, however… It was on the list of banned substances. It did lead me to something interesting though, something legal and not banned that I will expand upon in the future.

As for how to deal with PED (ab)use in competitive sports, John Kiefer has a good idea about what would really be fair.

Rather than taking the best athletes from every country (or, as is common practice, poaching them from other countries and calling them yours), I think we should take a random, average cross-section of humanity from each nation. These “athletes” would then be forced to compete in designated events without any training. In fact, they won’t even be told what event they’re participating in until the day they’re scheduled to compete. It’s almost a lottery system of participation—like the Hunger Games, only far more embarrassing.

Let’s consider what the Genuine Olympics would look like. The American team would be comprised of sedentary, nearly obese “athletes.” Granted, they’d likely excel at aquatic events because they’d float well—and their senseless, aimless kicking would at least propel them to safety at the other end of the pool, alleviating the need for lifeguards (although the potential for sudden cardiac arrest would certainly be something we’d have to consider there).

Forget about gymnastics, though. It’d take hours for the American team to crawl over the pommel horse, much less vault it. They’d get winded walking from corner to corner on the floor exercise mat. And the balance beam? It’d have to be crafted from carbon fibre for strength, and titanium to provide a bit of give yet avoid shattering under the weight of our team.

England wouldn’t fare much better. Most of Europe would have trouble, although less so than their American counterparts. McDonalds and Coca-Cola could be sponsors (oh, wait…they already are), and Taco Bell would feed the Olympic village so everyone would be on the same diet and proper food choices wouldn’t provide an unfair advantage. Hell, let’s just slap Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew logos on all the uniforms—caffeine free, of course.”