We often hear the word “doping” during the Olympic Games or as new sport season begin. However, it is not always clear what is meant by the one-word designation for cheating in sport. We’ve outlined the basic performance-enhancing drugs and methods used by some athletes.
Blood Boosters are drugs which increase your blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity – above its natural capacity. Erythropoietin (EPO), which Lance Armstrong has admitted to using, is a blood booster. EPO is a naturally-occurring hormone which makes the production of red blood cells possible. Athletes can inject the hormone into their system, enabling their body to create more red blood cells.
Diuretics help eliminate fluid from the body. Athletes who need to be maintain a certain weight level for competition could use these to decrease their weight. Because they also dilute urine, which decreases the likelihood of detecting the presence of other drugs, diuretics can also be used as masking agents.
Lean Mass Builders amplify the growth of the body’s muscle. This category includes several different classes of drugs, particularly the more popularly known anabolic steroids and human growth hormone (hGH). HGH is a polypeptide hormone with the primary function of cell reproduction and regeneration, which has an obvious benefit for athletes. Testing for this drug was not possible until the early 2000s, when blood tests were finally able to distinguish between naturally- and artificially-occurring hGH.
Masking Drugs, like diuretics, serve the purpose of hiding evidence of other prohibitive substances or methods. A popular method for doing this is injecting the natural steroid Epitestosterone into your system after using steroids to increase your testosterone. Because the methods which raise testosterone do not naturally also elevate Epitestosterone, athletes will increase their Epitestosterone levels so that, when tested, the ratio between testosterone and Epitestosterone is normal (it should be 1:1). For example, Floyd Landis, after winning the Tour de France, was tested. His T/E ration was 11:1; the limit is 4:1.
Painkillers enable athletes to push through pain to train or compete. Typically narcotics are banned substances.
Sedatives are used when an athlete desires to reduce their nervousness, or when they may need to be more steady.
Stimulants increase activity in the central and peripheral nervous systems. As a result, athletes who use them can experience enhanced focus, aggression, and energy.
Gene Doping allows athletes to alter their bodies in such a way that various proteins and hormones in their bodies operate differently. For example, exogenously introduced hormones (added by injection) can actually be naturally produced (endogenously) in their body. Or Myostatin, a protein which inhibits muscle growth, can be mutated to limit its effectiveness, which would result in increased muscle production.
Blood doping refers to the practice of utilizing blood transfusions to supply an athlete’s body with an increase in red blood cells prior to competing. Increased red blood cell presence allows for more oxygen to reach the lungs and other muscles, increasing aerobic capability. Homologous transfusions use compatible blood types from a donor, while autologous transfusions are done with the recipient’s own blood. The blood is harvested some time prior to competing, frozen and stored. This process does not effect the red blood cells. Then, shortly before competition, the transfusion takes place, increasing the red blood cell count in the athlete.
For an updated list on the prohibited substances, established by the World Anti-Doping Agency, click here.