DRUGS IN SPORT, the conversation everyone is having and no one will have properly.
I have been known in my career to have strong opinions and I do; I have just learnt with time that there is no point arguing with closed-minded people and especially closed-minded people in the medical field. So now I do my best to save my energy for where it is needed and keep my trap shut more often now.
There has been a lot of debate in the media of late about performance enhancing drug (PED) use in sports; and also, as always, stories emerging of even more athletes caught out. So I am taking this prompt to add my own opinions on the matter.
I have worked with elite, Olympic and world class athletes for the best part of 13 years and I have never had cause to suspect an athlete. Perhaps my no drug stance has been fair warning to anyone that would consider cheating to prevent them coming to me.
I have an absolutely ZERO TOLERANCE APPROACH TO the use of drugs in sport and a very low tolerance for the overuse of medication in any aspect of health.
It took me a long number of years in my career to understand that for most athletes sport isn’t about the joy and passion of sport, or health. But winning. It took reading a science paper about 10 years ago, that documented that somewhere up to 85% of athletes (don’t quote the number I have a bad memory for numbers; it is the message that is important) would take a performance enhancing drug (PED) if it guaranteed a win despite a serious and even life threatening consequence.
People would die to win?
THAT BELTED IT HOME TO ME, how naive of me to think others do sport for just passion and joy. It’s about ego and winning at all costs for many.
This concept is a little sad to me, but it is what it is. In life there are cheats, and in my book cheats come with a whole dose of lies too, and finger-pointing, and blame, and a complete lack of personal responsibility and accountability. And a disrespect to sport and all other athletes. It is a selfish thing and ruins sport.
When there are publications out there like this; it makes one question humanity and just how far this all goes.
It is tragic that the first question on a person’s mind when someone wins is did they take drugs? I like to give people the benefit of the doubt; and this is becoming increasingly difficult. If Usain Bolt tests positive I don’t know what I will do; I want to hope and dream that someone is winning on talent and hard work.
That normal amateur athletes are cheating in sport these days is a reality that I find hard to swallow. But it’s there. Even in your typical gym you will find yourself in the free weights section beside a conversation on drugs. I know because I am not dumb. I spent years in a gym doing strength work, I know what goes on, I have been in those conversations but I will not ever accept a client that creates any questions in my mind. It is good to have your eyes open all the same. Drugs in amateur sports happens, drug use in every day gym goers is a reality, drug use in youths involved in sports and body-building is becoming an issue…..
The statistics on triathletes did shock me detailing the high use of medication and drugs use within and around competition. I think most of us will agree that the consumption of banned substances constitutes cheating. However not everyone will agree with my views regarding racing on pain medications. I refuse point-blank to work with an athlete taking questionable products in or out of season. When painkillers are in question then it’s worth an honest chat; I’m on your side but perhaps we have options. Turmeric for example is a more potent painkiller than ibuprofen without risks.
If you let me explain my reasoning regarding pain medication then perhaps you will understand my stance better. I am charged with giving you honest advice about what science says in relation to health and performance. The nature of who I am will also see past just the finish line when it comes to your health. My views on pain medications may not be in concurrence with everyone’s beliefs; but do correlate with the best of my knowledge in science and as up to date as I can be.
Pain is a sign that something is not right in the body; quite simply pain is information. If you race numbing the pain by use of a medication you risk creating significant damage and perhaps longer term harm. That may result in far more time off training and competition that you asked for.
Furthermore NSAIDS may hinder bone healing and cartilage regeneration (also here) and increase scar tissue formation in the healing phase. The evidence isn’t clear-cut but from my experience as a pharmacist there is never smoke without a fire and cause for me to warrant advising only the limited use of NSAIDs when appropriate. So there may be multiple risks when you head out and race while medicating pain. And finally, more worrying for the endurance and ultra endurance athletes, there is concerns over the association between NSAIDs and Exercise Associated Hyponatraemia; a serious and often life-threatening condition.
To me health as well as clean sport is important because you need health to perform optimally!
I applaud the professionals and amateur athletes speaking out strongly against drugs in sport; we need more ambassadors in sports demanding change. (read here about one such athlete Sam Gyde; and also Jodie Swallow, James Cunnama and more.)
Gone are the days of innocent until proven guilty in sport; I think people have become so skeptical that it deeply saddens me. But honest athletes should stand tall and proud and with integrity to their truth. The truth eventually comes out. Don’t waste your energy fighting battles you cannot win, but do stand up for what you believe in and bring your message to those that count; the youth athletes of today and tomorrow.
Just how much one cheat can bring down everyone around them has been something I am less naive on and I was given a great reminder of this last week. I have never to the best of my knowledge, nor will I ever, associate my personal and professional life with any athlete, friend, or family member that has or is taking drugs to cheat. No question I will not work with anyone that creates any doubt in my mind and in honesty the only thing I have to go by is intuition; and being a highly sensitive person I can strongly feel what is going on in the body of a client.
There are two reasons I refuse to work with anyone that raises any suspicions about being a clean athlete.
- I am the one of the first ones that the finger can be pointed at in blame for a failed drugs test (e.g. if I have recommended that someone take whey protein) and especially if any laws change to remove absolute responsibility from the athlete. I have worked 20 years on a reputation as someone with honesty, integrity, and independence. I won’t even affiliate with a sports nutrition company no matter how much they may wish to pay me. My opinion is my own; always has been and always will be….. loved ones know that there is no telling me once my mind is made up!Coaches are in the firing line too.As best as I can, and I go to great lengths, I am VERY strict on supplement brand quality. I don’t even let artificial sugars in them and I sure as hell demand that when possible they have been screened in a WADA approved/ informed sports lab for sports nutrition products (and for health products a facility with very strong GMP and SOP and certificates of analysis and purity). There are no guarantees; so we have to do our homework here as best as is possible. It is frustrating that athletes must pay more to use these products; but an expense that is worth it.
Education and experience has seen me return to food as the best approach with limited use of supplements. Supplements are an industry too and any industry standing to make profits is full of lies and deceit and sometimes dubious quality control; this is where my education comes to the fore. I know science, I know medicine and I know pharmacy; I try to always have a good bullshit radar.
Even chicken breasts stuffed with hormones have been known to spike blood levels of unwanted substances; so you always must be mindful of what goes in your mouth, up your nose (nasal sprays), on your body (skin absorption) and in your water. For me that is a health first reason, but for athletes they should be always thinking about more.
- I don’t believe in cheating.Cheats should be exposed publicly and dealt with strictly. I don’t believe that athletes that have cheated should be permitted to compete again, in any competitive sport.Yes in real life people can change, yes they can show us that they are different people after making mistakes. But cheating isn’t a mistake it is DELIBERATE CHOICE and it is a slap in the face to all the athletes racing clean. Lifetime ban across all sports.
How you monitor this, how you catch cheats and the mess that is the cheats Versus the catchers is a political and financial and a debate I don’t want to get in to. I am not adequately qualified and far too naive a person…. drugs in sports is a problem that runs very deep a bit like a rotten apple to the core.
What I do know, with a degree in pharmacy is that those cheating lie in two categories – pun intended – 1. they don’t know what they are doing and are taking great risks and – 2. they have a sophisticated and qualified team of experts around them all involved in the lies and cheating. Equally dangerous, harder to catch.
All drugs come with a consequence.
A few that spring to mind when it comes to sport:
1. SIDE-EFFECTS for the athlete.
In my life I have a strong view on the use of medications “Avoid unless necessary” (like life-saving necessary). Medication messes people up in general, I see vaccine damaged teenagers in the clinic, persons with more side effects than benefits, the list goes on and on.
Even an antibiotic impacts an athlete negatively in their gut microbiome and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain killers (NSAIDs) impact cartilage repair and when taken during a race NSAIDs increase the chance of exercise associated hyponatraemia, a potentially fatal form of over-hydration and electrolyte imbalance.
For me I don’t believe that the medical system is built on truths about how the body works; and I have the same view on PEDS, they come with side-effects. Short and long-term my opinion is no no and no.
2. Don’t start me on the DRUGS BLACK MARKET; injections with a side of mercury, aluminium, plastics and fillers? Cheap fillers in tablets? No thanks. The drug market is an industry trying to profit from low costs and high margins; I don’t trust it as far as I could throw a shot putter. I am not sure that the legit market is any better. When you work as a pharmacist you are dealing with drug recalls frequently.
3. The body is a delicate balance of simply astonishing metabolic, hormonal and chemical messaging functions; drugs impact this delicate balance and often with unknown long-term consequences. Clinical studies are in my opinion grossly lacking in catching the longer-term and more subtle and sometimes serious side effects. Consider Thalidomide, Vioxx, Fen-Phen (and other weight loss drugs and cardiovascular effects), the great cholesterol con (watch this space), the anti-malarial Larium (another one to watch; for example), and soon our HPV vaccine and a growing list of serious adverse events; the lists grow daily.
4. THE MESSAGE to your children, colleagues, the next generation of athletes…. just what are you saying when you take drugs to cheat? When does a 14-year-old start taking drugs when this is what they see as a necessary to win? What psychological messages are we giving about a win at all costs attitude? What about decent morals and ethics… has the world really gone too far now?
Performance enhancing drug use in youth athletes and teens in school is a very real and serious problem, with very worrying as of yet not fully known long-term health effects.
Reports from China of late are VERY worrying concerning youth athletes; extending as far as concerns about genetic doping never mind documented state-sponsored doping.
Teens and youth athletes bodies are still developing; what exactly happens when you introduce PEDs into their growing and developing bodies?
If we are impacting growth patterns and hormones are we looking at cancer and long-term hormone imbalances or worse still sudden cardiac deaths, cardiovascular problems, disrupted bone and growth patterns, serious hormonally related health symptoms and infertility?
5. I have no respect for a cheat: zero, nil, nada…..
I have a strong belief that IF you do all the jigsaw pieces correctly that you can optimize your sports genetics and play on a level field with the cheats; if not more.
Epigenetics are the turning on and off of genes by environment; eat the correct balance of essential nutrients, train smartly, rest completely, ease stress in your life, limit environmental anti-nutrients and toxin exposures and optimise hormone balance through natural strategies and you can reap massive improvements in sports capability.
I know because I see this in the athletes that I work with. THIS IS THE HARDER APPROACH AND SO WORTH IT. HARD WORK THAT CHEATS CLEARLY AREN’T PREPARED TO INVEST IN THEIR SPORTS. Then add in the power of the mind and cognitive strategies to your sports and see where this takes you……
I am sure I have more thoughts but right now I am starting to feel a little too emotional about it all…….
Rio 2016 will be interesting; but I cannot even trust the who is caught and who isn’t these days. The whole thing is tainted in my mind. sad:-(