Since man first sought to extend his physical prowess to improve his chances of success, whether in combat or organized sports, he has turned to additional help in the form of ergogenic aids, substances that directly influence a particular aspect of physiological functioning to boost performance beyond one's natural capabilities.
Broadly speaking, ergogenic aids range from something as simple as a glass of water to the highly advanced anabolic steroid combinations that are now commonplace in sport.
Over recent decades the need to advance physically has brought a whole new series of challenges, as athletes have increasingly sought more sophisticated ways to outperform the competition. This heightened need to be bigger, faster and stronger necessitated the strongest possible ergogenic intervention: performance enhancing and facilitating drugs.
While some of these substances, like anabolic-androgenic steroids, directly build size and strength, others like diuretics enable the body to quickly drop size thus rapidly streamlining the physique to make a certain weight class and still others such as the stimulants, which provide increased alertness and an ability to train harder for longer, all give athletes the decided edge over their non-partaking rivals.
In fact, such are the advanced chemical approaches many athletes today take when preparing for competition, it could be said sport has become chemical warfare, a battle fought just as hard in the lab as on the playing field.
From the primitive caffeine, cocaine and alcohol stack used by cyclists in the 19th century to the complex synergism of multiple, highly evolved substances such as the fat burning aid Clenbuterol, strong diuretics, stimulants, and combination of anabolic-androgenic steroids, drug use in sport has progressed in line with technological advancement in general.
Some might say it was only a question of time before athletes began seeking an alternative, yet supporting, performance edge to that of their training programs and cutting edge diets.
The truth is, the need to enhance performance - if we consider the broader meaning of the term ergogenic aid - has been inherent in man throughout the existence of sport and combat, which in light of the advanced survival skills needed to compete and prosper, can be traced back to the beginning of time, since the first fist was thrown, the first ball kicked.
But no longer are the grape skins once fashionable among Zulu Warriors to enhance their fighting prowess sufficient to box at high intensity over 12 grueling rounds of a major title fight.
No longer is the raw egg, injections of strychnine and gulping of brandy that pushed marathon runner Thomas Hicks to victory at the 1904 St Louis Olympics potent enough to create the superhuman efforts needed to clean and jerk 250 kilograms to become an Olympic champion or to build a set of 22 inch biceps to become Mr. Olympia.
As time progressed, athletes became smarter and their drug repertoire increased in tandem with their burgeoning cognitive capacities. Sports people could no longer rely on standard training and nutritional approaches to excel in their chosen discipline.
By the mid '50s, drug use in sport was becoming accepted among athletes as a necessity rather than a desirable adjunct to their training and nutrition programs'. The sporting world was increasingly becoming an experimental outlet for all manner of drug use. Various sporting bodies were afraid of where it would all lead.
Not only were athletes winning based on what they were consuming and injecting, some were dying allegedly as a result of their intake of performance enhancing substances.
In response to the modern day warrior's need to excel physically, and specifically after several fatalities involving drug using athletes, notably Danish cyclist Knud Enemark Jensen, who died during the 1960 Rome Olympic Games and was found to have traces of amphetamine in his blood, were noted, sporting agencies began to explore the possibility of drug testing.
In 1928 the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) became the first sporting federation to ban doping (the use of chemicals to aid performance). But this ban largely proved futile, as there was no drug testing in place to enforce it. This drug dilemma was compounded through the early 1930s advent of synthetic substances, most notable pure testosterone, the male sex hormone that promotes aggression, strength and muscle hypertrophy.
With no testing in place athletes were free to experiment with various types of drugs, many of which were being developed in response to the increasing needs of the hard training athlete, and a performance enhancement drug revolution of sorts, flourished.
After the high profile 1967 death of cyclist Tom Simpson on the Tour de France and armed with knowledge of how heavily entrenched drugs were becoming in sport, the IOC (international Olympia Committee) began testing for the first time - at the 1968 Olympic Winter Games.
Although by the early 1970s all International Federations (IF) had introduced drug testing, the substances tested for were limited to stimulants, and by then anabolic-androgenic steroids, the world's predominantly abused performance drugs were a regular part of the international sporting scene.
Agencies knew this so once a reliable testing method had been found, anabolic-androgenic steroids were tested for, the first time being in 1976.
Since then, many athletes, mostly those requiring additional strength and size, have been tested positive for banned substances, including steroids. When Ben Johnson was found to have used the anabolic steroid Stanozolol to allegedly win the 100 meters sprint at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the non-athletic world, witness to the media maelstrom that followed, became more aware of the extent to which drugs were a factor in sport.
Since the Johnson affair, international sport has been plagued by drug scandals and this has cast a negative light over the athletes, their respective sports and, by implication, the countries they represent.
The biggest problem concerning the association of drugs with sport, was the disorganization surrounding the various testing policies, governing bodies and sports authorities, a state that would often result in differences of opinion on policy, sanction, definition and the procedures used and to what extent as they related to the use of and testing for certain drugs.
This highlighted the need for an independent international testing agency and so was established the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on November 10, 1999. This led to the formation of a uniform set of anti-doping rules (the World Anti-Doping Code) to be adhered to by sports organizations the world over.
On March 5, 2003, at the second World Conference on Doping in Sport, a unanimous agreement to adopt this code was made between 1200 delegates representing 80 governments, the International Olympic Committee, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), all Olympic sports, national Olympic and Paralympic committees, athletes and national anti-doping organizations.
Since the establishment of the WADA World Anti-Doping Code, many thousands of athletes have been subject to rigorous drug testing in the hopes that international competitors compete on a level playing field, potential health risks are minimized and performance is judged on natural talent rather than advanced chemical assistance.
But, admirable as the testing policies and practices might be, they are far from perfect. Take bodybuilding for example. At the amateur level, where anabolic-androgenic steroids are commonplace, and under the directives of the WADA, bodybuilders are subject to random testing.
With this practice there are several problems, most notable of these being a perceived lack of transparency among athletes and their assistants. If one athlete is tested positive, who is to say the next is not positive also and the next, and so on. But across the board testing might not be practical, financially or otherwise.
Another major problem with drug testing in amateur bodybuilding - which is predominantly done via analysis of the constituents of urine - is the lengths many competitors will go to beat the test. While some use various masking agents, designed to cover all traces of a specific drug, or drugs, others will conceal the urine of other people on their person and pass this off as their own.
With all the advances in the war on drugs in sport, is the situation any better? Yes and no. With advanced testing procedures have come better reliability and a higher success rate in testing for commonly used drugs, but with equal progress in the formulation of different types of designer substances, the advent of genetic engineering and the random nature of current detection protocols, athletes are managing to stay one step ahead as exemplified by the seemingly never ending supply of bigger, faster and stronger sportsmen and women.
The way things are playing out now, it seems drugs will forever be an intrinsic part of an athlete's need to outperform the competition, smash personal records and excel at the highest level.
Two major arguments surrounding this situation currently exist: given current protocols are thought in many quarters to be flawed we must tighten testing procedures and conduct testing more frequently, and, at the opposite end of the spectrum, since athletes will continue to use drugs regardless of any possible health consequences and will often take dangerous routes (high doses of diuretics in some cases) to avoid detection, educate them on how to use performance drugs correctly.
The former argument takes a hard lined approach to drug testing while the latter realizes the futility of trying to stem the tide of athletes who do whatever it takes to succeed which, ironically ultimately creates as much of an unlevel playing field as does banning drugs from sport completely.
With the current blanket ban there are those willing to use and those afraid to do so. With a carefully monitored approach to the governance of drug usage, perhaps competitors will be less likely experiment with dangerous combinations of drugs and safer alternative drugs can be found.
Whatever the case, man will always search for new and effective ways to improve. In the sporting sphere this ultimately means the use of sophisticated performance-enhancing drugs.
To get an insider's look at this most contentious of issues, I recently spoke with a man who works with many top-level amateur (not an oxymoron) bodybuilders, the Middle East's most successful contest specialization guru, Ali Amini.
Why is drug testing conducted? Who performs the tests and how is this done? What drugs are tested for and what are some of the ways bodybuilder's seek to beat them? What masking agents are used and why? What are the best drugs to cycle in the weeks leading up to testing time? What problems are inherent in the current drug testing system? These questions and more are answered in the following interview.
Ali Amini Interview
Since the IFBB signed with WADA on the 12th of November 2003, it began drug testing to comply with the WADA code as a part of an agreement and a push to get bodybuilding into the Olympic Games (the Amateur division).
The WADA "Prohibited List" has approximately 7000 substances. And to run a test like that the cost is a major issue: it can exceed US $2,000, and then you have the courier charges all multiplied by how many tests are conducted at a show. So to reduce these costs not all substances are included in each test. Which can drop the test cost to as low as US $400.
Further from the cost cutting issue, each year there are new schemes for testing. Sometimes they just do a test for a couple of guys at the weigh-in, sometimes a random three out of the top five (which was done in 2005 World Championships - and this random method was not transparent) and sometimes two of the top six as was done at last years World Championships.
Why is randomly testing three out of the top five guys not transparent, as was you allege the case at the 2005 World Championships?
There were no criteria for random testing. They just took samples and the names of the positive athletes were announced later. Whereas in 2007 it was clear who was actually going to get tested. And there was no action taken against the athletes who didn't give a urine sample (in 2005). Where according to the Constitution they should be reported as having been tested positive.
How is this test performed?
A urine sample is taken from the athlete by a WADA certified doping officer of the same gender. He or she has the right to ask the athlete to face him while he urinates in the collection vessel, bare from waist to mid-thigh just to make sure he is not mixing anything or using a filled tube that contains clean urine.
Then the sample (has to be more than 75ml) is taken to the desk and the athlete, at this time, picks out a doping control kit "sample A&B container" and the doping officer pours the urine in the two containers (50ml in the A sample Container and 25ml in the B Sample container). Then the doping control kit is seated in a foam box and a number is used to identify it (no person's name is mentioned).
The officer will then test the PH (between 5-7) and the specific gravity (greater than or equal to 1.005 if using a refractometer or 1.010 with lab sticks) from the remaining urine in the collection vessel.
The urine sample is sent to one of the 33 WADA-accredited laboratories around the world. The results are usually out with in three to four weeks.
Tell me more about the labs these samples to sent to
The lab that is certified by the WADA should be a governmental or educational institution.
What equipment is required to conduct drugs tests?
The lab that is certified by the WADA should be a governmental or educational institution. The equipment alone exceeds a million dollars and that is why the tests are so expensive. I was told by one of the labs that they have equipment over US $1.5 million. Also specific software is required for each piece of equipment.
Most of this equipment is found in test and research labs. I am not that familiar with the names but once they are set; they are just plugged and played. Everything is computerized. You just have to supply it with the sample and you will get a full analysis of what the equipment can detect.
Thermo Fisher Scientific has been known to supply state of the art equipment (hardware and software) and is recognized by WADA.
Who is qualified to conduct these tests and why?
WADA Doping Control Officer. They are qualified if they follow the exact instructions that are dictated to them by the WADA. However that is not the case in many countries and sports.
How do drug-using bodybuilders often prepare for these tested shows?
There are a lot of "detection time" tables on the Internet. These are not right. And there are a lot of masking agents that claim to clean out everything in a week or so. All are false statements.
However GH (Growth Hormone) is undetectable via urine, so a lot of bodybuilders take GH up until the day of the show. Then you have certain testosterone compounds, which clear from the body within one to three weeks, and some orals that stay detectable for only three weeks and some for four days. So the smart competitors use a combination of these and taper down up until the day of the first potential test (the weigh-in).
If the quality of the drugs that you use are good and are legit you should be able to use all of these banned substances and cut them at the proper calculated time to pass the test.
Would a bodybuilder usually slowly taper off of their drug regimen or would they typically just try to beat the test somehow and stay on their usual cycle?
As I mentioned masking agents are risky and have no credibility whatsoever. So the best way is to take certain drugs and cut them at certain times to clear out your system and deliver a clean urine sample.
But I understand masking agents are used quite widely despite your assertion that they are risky. What are some common masking agents and how do they work?
I am not a fan of masking agents. However I will mention the common ones and how they work.
Epitestosterone: This is used to get the required Testosterone/epitestosterone Ratio after administering Testosterone. The required Testosterone/epitestosterone ratio is 4:1.
Diuretics: Some detectable diuretics are considered as masking agents because they dilute the urine which then bypasses the some substances from the test.
Adulterating Agents: These are the commercial products that actually state that they clean the urine from certain or all kinds of steroids. Example: ("Whizzies," "Jamaica Me Clean" and "UrinAid").
Alpha-reductase inhibitors: Or 5A-R inhibitors. These have the tendency to block the enzyme that converts testosterone to Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and like anti Aromatize it doesn't give you any extra strength but is suspicious in the eyes of the authorities as being administrated while on Testosterone e.g., finasteride (Proscar/ Propecia), dutasteride - A Brazilian football/soccer player (Romario) failed the doping test for "Finastride" and claimed he was using it to prevent hair loss.
What are some of the novel ways bodybuilders have sought to beat the drug tests in your experience?
Soap has been used to beat the test. However if you mix soap with the urine sample (that could be done either by eating or drinking soap of filling the penis with liquid soap so it mixes during urination) the PH level will be higher than seven, which is over the limit and the officer should then ask you to provide another sample. But to cut the hassle a lot of officers don't bother and let the sample slide.
The soap will sabotage the sample and the lab will not be able to perform the tests. In that case the lab should announce that the sample has been manipulated with and fail the athlete. But to bypass accusations and legal issues they just declare him negative and pass the test.
In one of the World Championships a whole team didn't give urine sample and said they couldn't urinate. And the authorities let them get away with it. In another World Championship a bodybuilder went in with clean urine in his mouth and just spit that into the collection vessel.
In some cases another person who had never used drugs in his life replaces the actual athlete, just to pass the test. The whole dilemma is there because of a lack of transparency and officers trying to protect their countryman or friends and because of this not doing their job as expected.
And the overall World Champion never fails the test!
What is a recommended basic drug cycle for a tested athlete?
Testosterone Propionate, Oxandrolone and Stanozolol tablets stays in the body for three weeks. So if you take that for lets say eight to ten weeks and cut it three weeks from the day of the weigh in you should be safe. You can also use fat burning agents such as Clenbuterol and Cytomel until five days out and ephedrine until 10 days out.
What are the drugs that are typically tested for and how long does each of these drugs stay in the body?
The main substances are Nandrolone, Stanozolol, Methanolon and Testosterone.
Nandrolone: Very cheap and effective so it is usually the replacement instead of the more expensive compounds like Trenbolone or Methanolone. No one will take Nandrolone for a tested show because it will stay in the system for 18 to 19 months. So they use a fake that is labeled Trenbolone or Methanolone but is actually filled with the cheaper nandrolone.
Stanozolol: Bodybuilders are misled by the Internet to believe the injectable Stanozolol stays in the system for two months when it was clear 17 years ago that it stays more than four months: this was when an IFBB pro failed the test for Winstrol V and had stopped if for four months.
Methanolon Enanthate: A very weak drug but people still believe that it gives pure muscle. On the Internet it was mentioned that it stays 3 months in the system and some said 5 weeks (Enanthate for 5 weeks? ya right). A lot of Bodybuilders got away with it after stopping it 1 month prior to the show but the case was that they didn't check for Methanolon in the previous tests. So a myth was spread that it stays 1 month where the fact is it can stay anywhere between 6-8 months.
Trenbolone: Trenbolone acetate pills were rumored by a world champion to stay only three days in the system. Then the same world champion tested positive for Trenbolone.
Testosterone: Because it is already part of an athletes hormone system the test is carried out by getting the ratio of Testosterone/Epitestosterone.
If two athletes use the same drugs to compete what are some of the main advantages one of these competitors might have over the other in terms of his ability to beat the test?
Well genetics and body type play a big role in that. As for the rest, certain drugs are still used by some of the top guys, which are not used by others. And that's the edge they have over the others. Also certain diuretics are still undetectable and/or not on the "Prohibited List" yet.
How do bodybuilders get the best drugs for these shows to beat the tests?
Good brands are mostly Human and Pharmaceutical Grade. And that is usually the job of the trainer/Guru - to find these products. Just recommending drugs will not do it, especially in this case. You have to know the market well and what is available and recommend certain brands, which have been tested.
Getting this stuff tested by a lab is hard work and you have to have good resources and you have to be connected to know exactly what goes on in the sport to make use of others experiences/mistakes.
What are common drug mistakes bodybuilders make when preparing for shows?
I would say the main reason a lot of the bodybuilders are misled is the Internet. Most of the amateur bodybuilders come from poor educational backgrounds. And once they read something on the Internet or if a pro bodybuilder posts something on the boards, they all go crazy and believe it blindly.
What they should at least consider is that the pro bodybuilder never did a tested show. So if you fail the test it is not his mistake. Secondly, the amateur and pro world are very different in terms of drug dosages.
And supplements are a major factor in this equation. A lot of supplements on the market are mixed with drugs. And you have always the bold statement on each supplement that says: "These statements have not been approved by the FDA". Which means they can add whatever they want. And mostly Dianabol, Winstrol and Mythel Testosterone are added to supplements to procure results because they are the most effective and the cheapest on the market (even though the option of Oxemethalone Trenbolone and Primobolan pills are there, no one uses them because either they are too expensive or too weak).
Products like DHEA are listed in the "Prohibited List" and an Asian champion failed the test for DHEA even though he stopped it one week before the show.
Testosterone boosters like Tribulus & 17HD will definitely cause you to you fail the test. Not that they contain any kind of hormones but the testosterone surge that you get from them is subject to imbalance of the Testosterone:Epitestosterone ratio.
However EAS has been the only company yet to prove all their statements and guarantee that all their products are doping free. They confirm that their product is doping free and does not contain any banned substances currently on the WADA list.
How common is it for anabolic drugs to be mixed with nutritional supplements (how widespread is this practice?) and what kinds of supplements have these drugs added to them (whey protein, vitamins etc)?
A survey was done some time back on more than 50 supplements and 25% of them contained banned substances. The thing is you have a lot of companies trying to make a big name in the market and they want to give instant results so adding performance enhancement drugs is the easiest way, even if the product is not that high quality the drug will hold the protein synthesis and make you build muscle, thus making you believe it is magic supplement where the truth is it is the drug that is in it that is giving you that muscle. Mainly they are found in whey protein powder and testosterone boosters.
What are the most popular bodybuilding drugs on the market right now?
For any tested contest, Testosterone Deconate would be the king: a Testosterone soft gel that stays detectable for one week only. Also some diuretics, which I mentioned, that are not on the list yet and/or not detectable yet can help achieve lean conditioning and that the athlete makes weight for whatever sport they are involved with.
In your experience are bodybuilders at the amateur level getting more into substances like synthol? Would you agree with the statement that synthol use is common among bodybuilding athletes?
Not in the Amateur world. There are some that use but they are less than 5% and visible signs of synthol are very minimal: mainly because they don't know how to use it.
I once saw a guy who pulled 1.5ml synthol and injected it evenly in both of his biceps, both of his triceps and both of his rear delts. This made it .25ml in each muscle. So I told him, "do you expect any gains?" He said, "I can't inject more because it hurts but I can still feel the gains." So I told him "good for you." So if they don't even follow the proper protocols for most of the drugs how do expect them to get the synthol part right.
How common are drugs in amateur bodybuilding in your experience? And what degree of understanding do many amateurs have of the drugs they are taking?
As I said before, most of the people in the amateur world come from a low educational background. So most of them don't talk or read any English at all. And we all know that in sport, nutrition and performance enhancement drug tests and research are done in English, therefore they lack a lot of information and a lot of misleading or ancient information is being spread around.
It usually gets out by a champion, but because the rest think because this guy is a champion or he won so he should know the secret and others try to duplicate his approach which is only backed by a show winner or a good conditioned guy. But they forget that genetics play a big role in how a person looks and how he responds to diet and drugs. And a lot of the bodybuilders think that if they find a piece of information on the Internet, then it is true.
Fewer drugs used in the amateurs compared to the pros; but these are not necessarily safer because a lot of them are oral due to them needing to be cleared from the system in a shorter period.
There are very few who actually take a proper cycle like pros, and with the stuff they take have time to clear it out of the system to pass the test; and they are the ones who actually make it to the top. And at the end of the show each one comes out and tells his friend: "Ya he won, but I was only taking Growth Hormone and he was taking everything."
But this doesn't matter as long as you win and pass the test. No one cares what you did or didn't take as long as you pass the test and are good enough to win.
Drug use will always be bonded to any sport 'cause everyone wants to perform better, look more muscular, be drier, make weight, have a higher oxygen capacity, and so on. Drug testing is a good way to give a fair chance to everyone, but it requires more education and solid information from anti-doping agencies. Not to promote drug use - because these substances will be used anyway - but to make sure people know what they are doing and to do it the healthiest way possible.
Banning drugs is not a solution, but encouragement to find other ways around the system. Therefore assuring good brands are used with proper dosages is the way to do it.
The way the drug test is held right now will only force athletes to learn their way around and beat the test - and, unfairly, only the smart ones will do it and the rest will fail - and look for more alternatives to pass or use undetectable drugs which can be lethal in some cases.
Since bodybuilders are getting more sophisticated in their approach to beating the tests, are the tests becoming harder to beat in line with these athletes ingenuity?
No. The procedure in most of the countries are that they will allow you to do whatever you want and use whatever you wish to pass the initial local test which is usually one month before the show. Then the expectation is that you will be clean on the day of the show.
One of WADA and IFBB's drug test objectives is to make it safer and to have healthier bodybuilders on stage. But that is not the case. Drug tested shows are more dangerous than non-tested shows. And the reason behind that is the athletes rely on orals much more, which are more toxic, and they take a lot of certain types of diuretics one week out from the show and cut them three days out.
The dehydration they go through is insane. Of course there are much better and safer ways to do it; but as I mentioned earlier, the bodybuilders are not that knowledgeable in these matters.
I remember I once got a call from a bodybuilder who was going to the World Championship and he told me that he had cut his sodium for the past two months and he still had one month to go. And there was another guy who actually stopped drinking water five days prior to the show.
The vision underpinning the doping test was to have a drug free sporting environment; but that is not the case at the moment. So with the current situation, the best way is just to require the athletes to be clean/pass the test on the day of the show. This would save a lot of time and money and health issues not to mention the criticism leveled at the doping test will gradually go away.
What are some ways drug test administrators can make the tests harder to beat?
You can't make the test harder to beat. The test is good enough. What I suggest is they let everyone do whatever they do and spend more money on the test for the day of the show.
Instead of choosing two athletes to undergo the test, do it for the top five or even top ten. Because if you do a test for only two, what makes you so sure that the next guy who takes his place is clean? The money can be taken from the federations that participate by increasing the sanction or registration fee.
This is the case in all the sports. You have performance enhancement in all the physical sports and some beta and cortisol blockers in some of the mental games like chess and golf. And these substances are in the "prohibited list" which makes these guys the same as other performance athletes.
Why do you think performance enhancement drugs are lethal? And why are alcohol and cigarettes not banned, as they are known to be far worse health-wise?
No they are not lethal. Let's see what actually has the potency to kill. Insulin and Diuretics; well they are both OTC (over the counter) drugs in many countries, meaning you don't need a prescription to buy them from the pharmacy.
I was shocked when I was able to get injectable Lasix "furosemide" without any question. A very cheap OTC drug that if used wrongly can lead to death and insulin, which everyone knows, can cause brain damage and become lethal if injected in excessive amounts.
Antibiotics are the biggest danger. People get so addicted to them that their immune system has weakened over years of usage that they can't even tolerate a cold of flu and require IV antibiotics to get over them.
Whereas performance enhancement drugs, if legit and taken properly, can actually improve the immune system and not damage any brain cells. And when stopped, things go back to normal and sometimes certain functions even improve.
The main side effects you get from performance enhancement drugs are an elevation in liver and kidney enzymes; which will go back to normal once you stop taking them. Unfortunately the same can't be said about alcohol. Alcohol melts down the liver until it vanishes. Same thing goes for cigarettes: the side effects from these are not reversible and the lungs are damaged permanently. But you don't see any propaganda against them.
Why are you happy to share this kind of information with me?
What I mentioned is not intended to point fingers to any federation or association. I shared what is going on in the drug testing show's arena to make testing more reliable, hence giving every athlete a fair and equal chance in participating and competing.
Hope this also helps drug-testing organizations to consider what goes on and what trouble athletes go through. Performance enhancement substances can't be separated or taken out of the sports; therefore giving a fair chance to everyone and testing winners and runner-ups on the day of the show by non-bias parties is the most appropriate way to do it.