Unless you’re on a mission to win a Darwin Award, step away from the EpiPen.
“I hope nobody would be stupid enough to try that,” says Dr. Andy Hunt, medical director for USA Triathlon. “That” meaning injecting yourself with the 0.3 milligrams of adrenaline (aka epinephrine) an EpiPen contains.
“You use it to help treat allergic responses. You use it to support blood pressure when it’s plummeting. You risk cardiac arrhythmias, hypertension—a lot of bad things—if you use it for athletic performance, and I don’t think the payoff would be any better than having a cup of coffee before you go,” Hunt says.
But let’s forget for a minute that stabbing yourself with an EpiPen while you’re competing is a dumb idea that could lead to your immediate death or banishment from racing. (WADA specifically prohibits the use of EpiPens in competition.) We can see how you might’ve thought about literally taking a shot of adrenaline. It’s a hormone and neurotransmitter that the body releases in response to stress, fright, and exercise (aka an adrenaline rush). It increases your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood flow to the muscles; increases the amount of sugar in your blood so you’ll have more fuel ready to burn; and even temporarily increases muscle strength by allowing them contract more than usual.
The thing is, a shot from an EpiPen is not exactly like an adrenaline rush. The dose of adrenaline delivered through the autoinjector is much higher, Hunt says, and causes immediate and significant vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels) to increase blood pressure. “Even with a natural adrenaline rush, the risk for cardiac arrhythmia is higher and would be even higher with an EpiPen,” Hunt says.
Not only that, a 2008 study found there’s not much evidence that similar stimulants, like ephedrine, enhance sports performance. “If you have a death wish, fair enough,” Hunt says. “But I don’t think the payoff of any temporary increase in performance would be worth it.”
THE BOTTOM LINE: Only use an EpiPen in situations for which it was prescribed. (Like when experiencing anaphylaxis caused by a severe allergy.) Otherwise, it can cause arrhythmias, a heart attack, stroke, or death. Now stop thinking of ways to cheat and start training.