Fitness: Coming Soon to a Little Plastic Cup Near You

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, July 1995

Fitness: Coming Soon to a Little Plastic Cup Near You

A peek inside the medicine chest of the chemically enhanced athlete
By Mark Adams

In these quick-fix, gain-without-pain nineties, it's no surprise that some athletes' journeys to the medal stand begin with a furtive trip to Walgreens. But the banned-substance bandwagon rolls by at breakneck speed: These days even steroids, once the cutting edge for chemically adventurous competitors, are seemingly stone-age. So with the U.S. Olympic Festival getting underway this month in Colorado and the Atlanta Games just a year away, those looking to one-up Ben Johnson (i.e., win the gold and keep it) are busily searching for just the drug to add a little more pep to their step. Here, with the help of two of this country's foremost experts on the subject, Dr. James Puffer, Chief of the Division of Family Medicine at the UCLA School of Medicine, and Dr. Gary Wadler, the author of Drugs and the Athlete, is a guide to the latest behind-the-counter training aids. Some are perfectly legal, and others...well, who needs an Olympic medal if you look really buffed?

Synthetic versions of chemicals our bodies produce naturally

Clinical Benefits: They offer pituitarily challenged youngsters growth opportunities denied the post-Webster Emmanuel Lewis.

Who's Using and Why: Primarily those seeking increased bulk, like weight lifters and the late football star Lyle Alzado, who was a fan for many years; since these agents are naturally secreted, they furnish the twofer of a swift increase in muscle mass and a good shot at beating the pee test.

Legal Status: Banned by the International Olympic Committee.

Possible Side Effects: Wadler warns of "bone changes, hypertension, and adverse effects on the heart."

Johnson Factor:* 3

A bone-marrow-boosting serum that Puffer says has made blood doping "passé"

Clinical Benefits: Considered a godsend among anemics for its ability to stimulate production of red blood cells.

Who's Using and Why: Cyclists who want to increase their blood's capacity to hold oxygen with little chance of detection--and without having to mainline those nasty frozen corpuscles.

Legal Status: Outlawed by both the IOC and the International Cycling Federation.

Possible Side Effects: A lifetime ban in the strictest sense--the mysterious deaths of 18 European cyclists between 1987 and 1993 are widely suspected to have been the result of early rEPO experimentation.

Johnson Factor:* 2

Media-friendly wonder drug

Clinical Benefits: Lifts the spirits of the depressed and sparks phenomenal Book-of-the-Month-Club sales with such titles as Listening to Prozac and Prozac Nation.

Who's Using and Why: Marathoner Alberto Salazar, who claims the 'zac fueled his comeback last year by relieving his "suppressed endocrine system"--a theory that Wadler says is "in the realm of voodoo medicine."

Legal Status: Not allowed in most sports involving the shooting of weapons. Otherwise, permitted.

Possible Side Effects: Could inspire a chemically balanced Disney remake of The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, with lovable scamp Joey Lawrence in the title role.

Johnson Factor:* 1

Perhaps the performance drug of the midnineties

Clinical Benefits: Developed as an asthma medication.

Who's Using and Why: Sprinters, who seem more willing than most to take chances with easily detectable drugs, love it because it's "one of the most potent anabolic agents in increasing muscle and decreasing fat," says Wadler, who notes its popularity among breeders of show animals.

Legal Status: Banned by the IOC.

Possible Side Effects: Not recommended for archers or Olympic Village pool sharks--heavy doses cause hypertension and a rapid heart rate and can give one a mean case of the shakes.

Johnson Factor:* 4

Slimy subterranean member of the family Lumbricidae

Clinical Benefits: Good for beguiling freshwater game fish and a traditional reward for fowl that rise before dawn.

Who's Using and Why: Chinese women's track coach Ma Junren credits night crawlers for his team's spurt of world records in 1993; Puffer says that for the country's equally successful female swimmers, "the 'worm' was DHT," a steroid later revealed to be the squad's real ancient Chinese secret.

Legal Status: Worms--take as many as you like. DHT--banned.

Possible Side Effects: Aside from the social stigma of worm-eating, probably none.

Johnson Factor:* 1

*One Johnson: abnormally chiseled upper arms; marked improvement in athletic performance, if not sociability

Two Johnsons: photo appears on cover of team media guide; in it, neck circumference dangerously approaches that of head

Three Johnsons: not-unfounded feelings of invincibility; tendency toward hubris at the conclusion of televised 100 meter dashes

Four Johnsons: urine has smell and octane of jet fuel; red S appears on chest

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