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Can We Really Achieve “Clean Sport”?


Disclaimer: none of the above players have ever used or been suspected of using PEDs!

Clean sport. Athletes doing accomplishing amazing things with hard work and a solid, healthy diet. Or as baseball fans like to say about Babe Ruth “hitting home runs on beer and hot dogs” . But the past few years I feel like there is just one doping scandal after another. For every athlete like Ray Lewis or Ray Allen using a healthy diet to get the edge, there are athletes using the latest performance enhancing drugs/substances. The drug tests are getting more sophisticated and rules are getting tighter – as a college athlete I remember about taking an average of 3-5 times random drug tests per year. Drug tests are super fun and basically involve waking up at 5 am and walking/scootering to the Stadium so a compliance official could watch me pee in a cup. But hey, at least I wasn’t a pro athlete, so nobody ever showed up on my doorstep unannounced to watch me pee in a cup. But I digress.

This year alone we’ve seen a couple of scandals, including

  • Lance Armstrong finally admit to doping, stripped of all 7 Tour de France titles, and sued a LOT
  • ARod and several other MLB players suspended for illegal substances in connection with the Biogenesis lab in South Florida, most recently Ryan Braun of Milwaulkee
  • Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell – for those who don’t follow Track & Field, these men are the 2nd and 4th fastest 100 m sprinters – tested positive for PEDs less than a month before the world championships

There are a lot of arguments for both sides. Some say we’re fighting an uphill battle and should just allow PEDs in professional sports. Others say technology is getting better and we should keep fighting to preserve clean, drug free sport. But it isn’t necessarily that black and white. Some things I tend to think about in this “gray area”:

1. I am a purist and I think all sport should be clean. I’ve been competing in something since I was 8 years old and never once did I consider taking something illegal. Then again, there isn’t a lot of pressure among gymnasts and women pole vaulters to take PEDs, and I never had the carrot of a multi million dollar contract on the line.

2. Anabolic steroids can cause health problems later on. We know they’re bad. But there are a lot of other “banned substances”, deemed illegal because they may enhance performance just a little too much. Olympic pole vaulter Brad Walker makes a great point about this here.

3. In 1994 the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) essentially deregulated the supplement industry, meaning athletes need to be extremely careful about what they buy. Supplements we think nothing of buying at CVS like fish oil, enzymes, or even cough medicine could contain a banned substance. As you notice, some of these are nutrition supplements, so it’s a Catch-22. As a dietitian I may recommend a fish oil supplement or BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) to reduce the stress competitive athletics puts on your body, but many of these supplements may contain a banned substance.

*If you’re curious, here is a list of banned substances from the WADA.

So, what do you think? Should we pursue clean sport, or legalize PEDs? What about CrossFit? Do you think there are people using PEDs in CrossFit, and if so, do you think they should undergo the same testing and regulation as other sports?

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