Jan 29, 2015
HGH Hogging the Headlines

By Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS

Articles about the prevalence of steroids and Human Growth Hormone (HGH) in sports are breaking with the regularity of game scores and player transactions. The latest story–one that has Major League Baseball on edge–involves a former New York Mets clubhouse attendant who has informed authorities that he dealt steroids and HGH for years.

The biggest lure of HGH for athletes is the impact it has on recovery of connective tissue. Athletes use HGH along with steroids to speed muscle recovery and to help them cope with the orthopedic challenges that result from years of training. From the aging athlete’s perspective, you can almost rationalize the use of HGH by seeing it as a short cut to recovery.

Professional baseball players realize they have a relatively small window to make maximum dollars, so they use whatever means necessary to stay in the show as long as they can. Unfortunately, once an athlete becomes dependent on the recovery benefits of HGH, in most cases they do not feel comfortable going back to more traditional healing methods that, though more time-intensive, will also get the job done.

As performance enhancers, steroids and HGH allow athletes to take some time off in the off-season, then quickly build enough muscle to make it through another season. At that point they are hooked, and no matter how big their foreheads get, they continue to use these substances as a physical and psychological crutch.

These and many other stories about the use of HGH at all levels of sport illustrate why we need dedicated watch dogs like the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the United States Anti-Doping Agency to police this growing problem. But, as the quality of testing for designer steroids goes up, the cheaters continually find ways to beat the system. For instance, it is common knowledge that testing authorities have yet to develop a reliable way to test for HGH. Current urine-based testing can do little to determine who is cheating with HGH and who is not. However, help may soon be on the way.

This past year at the American College of Sports Medicine meetings in Denver, a special forum was created to discuss this issue. There were some disclosures made by officials from the WADA that they were making progress on being able to determine if the HGH found in an athlete was derived from their own body or from an exogenous source.

Determining a genetic-based footprint for HGH seems promising. However, even if it is found to be successful, wide-ranging implementation of these testing methods may yet be a ways off. And we still don’t know if they will pass the ultimate test yet… whether or not they will hold up in court.

Meanwhile, it is not a surprise to see people like Victor Conte of Balco, figures who dedicate their lives to creating designer performance enhancers, grab the limelight and take a bow for their clients’ athletic successes. But to find out that we have people like an MLB clubhouse attendant, who is on the inside of an organization, peddling HGH is a surprise and could lead to a firestorm.

It’s a situation that will likely lead to even greater security around these teams and more limited access to their clubhouses. We are already seeing teams step up screening efforts to avoid hiring employees who have a history of criminal and/or suspicious activities. Most successful pro teams I visit have some very well trained security personnel in place who screen and monitor team employees and consultants like myself who have access to the players.

Sports dietitian and strength coach Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS, has been refining and field-testing his three-step Fueling Tactics sports nutrition system for over 25 years. He recently released his nutrition system on DVD at his website: www.fuelingtactics.com. Named a finalist for the 2007 USOC “Doc” Counsilman Award and Chair of the NSCA’s Nutrition Special Interest group, Dave has experience at all levels of sport, which has made him a valuable asset for some of the most demanding sport coaches and a valuable sounding board for our readers.

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