Jan 29, 2015
Performance Enhancement Awareness

By Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS

We caught up with contributor Dave Ellis on his way to Major League Baseball Spring Training to get his thoughts on the recent headlines involving performance-enhancing drugs (PED).

After watching all that 2007 brought with the publishing of the Mitchell report and the made-for-TV drama brought on by the recent testimony on Capital Hill, it’s almost a forgone conclusion that the public at large is starting to look at big time sports in American as nothing more then a pumped-up product designed to keep their attention.

Take a deep breath America! There is still much that sports represents that we can hold our heads up about. Not everyone is using performance-enhancing drugs (PED) to hold a spot on a professional and collegiate roster. The vast majority of athletes still take the long road to developing the physical attributes behind a winning performance. You remember: hard work, dedication, sacrifice–all those character-building things that come when a group of athletes work toward a common goal together. Yes, some teams do still train together during the off-season and that is where the real magic occurs.

As a matter of fact, I can report that the perception that cheating in sports is rampant is, to coin a phrase, misrepresented. Did I say that right? Sometimes I mis-remember my grammar lessons…

How do I know that cheating is overstated? I get paid to monitor the body composition of several MLB, NFL, NHL and NBA teams as well as a bevy of Collegiate and Olympic teams. In 27 years of practice in athletics and some 40,000-plus body composition assessments, I have come up with some ways to identify candidates for PED testing which are worth sharing in light of all that is being reported.

Reasonable Metrics

When I see an athlete add more then five percent of their body weight in an off-season (from a previous high), I typically start to look for secondary signs of use of PED. A formerly muscular athlete who has lost lean mass due to injury might make large gains as they bounce back from the de-conditioning that occurs when they can’t load a muscle, but when a healthy athlete starts to make five-, six-, even seven-percent increases in lean mass during the off-season, you can’t rule out the use of PED. So if a 200-pound athlete gains 10 pounds of lean mass or more during a 10 week off-season workout cycle, I would red flag that athlete for some drug testing or counseling. Even if an athlete is using creatine for the first time during the off-season, a five percent gain in net body weight is a reasonable margin to accommodate for the wet weight of creatine in the muscle (kind of like the wet weight of carbohydrate in muscle called glycogen).

Longitudinal tracking of body composition and frame over time helps us know who has room to gain lean mass and should be more focused on refinement. Maybe even more importantly, having this data allows for more objective goal setting from an organizational standpoint to help ensure that the athletes are not responding in a rash fashion to unrealistic body composition demands. Proper Off-season Training Strategies

It’s been my experience that often athletes who do not organize their off-season workouts well tend to look for ways to make up for lost time. They want to speed recovery so they can make a run at gaining lean mass with the start of the season in sight. That is a mistake for a couple of reasons. Anyone who waits until late in the off-season to begin an effort to add lean mass is not thinking about just how long it takes to get new muscle. They’re also not ready to cope with all the metabolic and environmental stresses that come with the dynamics of spring training and preseason camps. These athletes often find that their newly gained lean mass feels like luggage and that the weight comes off when temperatures and reps on the field rise. It just takes time to properly condition lean mass to become efficient and those who get a late start can only do so much to squeeze in all the work that it takes to get the job done. Some who get a late start attempt to get away with condensing all this work by augmenting their rate of recovery and by lessening the damage from training by using PED like human growth hormone and testosterone. Often when these athletes decided to take this route they cleaned up their diets, lifestyles, and quality of rest all at the same time. I have never seen a PED user who could not have made the same gains had they dedicated even 85 percent of their off-season to a well-organized training program with the same diet, supplementation and lifestyle. We have also seen athletes rationalize using PED to overcome what might be a career-ending injury, with or without approval for therapeutic exemption. PED Testing

In my opinion, one thing this entire MLB situation has illustrated that if you don’t test for PEDs, a greater percentage of athletes in that sport will be likely to try using them at some point in their career. And the more endurance-oriented the sport, the less an issue the use of testosterone and growth hormone becomes, but the greater a problem blood doping becomes.

Let’s face it. With the kind of money that is on the table in big time sports (relative to what these folks can hope to make in the real world) credible third-party testing is a must in sports and you would hope that in the long term, the testing procedures and consequences follow a similar set of standards to what Olympic athletes face. It’s not that the Olympic system is perfect, but it does maintain the third-party objectivity you need in a drug-testing program. Hopefully one of the outcomes of the Mitchell report will be MLB and MLB Players Association looking at moving their drug testing toward a credible third party like the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to ensure frequency and quality of testing (in-season and off-season) to deter use of PED. Grassroots Deterrents

Is all the media coverage on this topic sending the wrong message to young athletes today? That goes without saying, but sometimes I worry more about the parents of the athlete thinking that PED are what it’s going to take to help their young athlete make the travel team or get a scholarship. Certainly, the young athletes themselves are connecting the dots that cheating might lead to individual recognition and a big opportunity (scholarship or contract). When a parent becomes convinced this is the case, look out!

Parents actually have the resources to facilitate execution of PED use even if they don’t do anything but make strong suggestions to “get big” and supply the money for their athlete to find a solution. And from the feds themselves, the bad news is they have their hands full fighting the war on street drugs, leaving some wide lanes for those peddling PED to operate. We also have some holes in our laws yet that allow people like Balco to take on celebrity status after a short stay behind bars–that need to be changed. This battle will have to be funded and waged at a grassroots level in the near future.

I have to applaud the efforts of groups like U.S. Anti-Doping and the Taylor Hooton Foundation as they work to help young athletes and parents understand the physical and mental decrement that come with PED. Also, the work of the NSF Certified for Sports supplement testing program has set a standard for good manufacturing practices to ensure supplements are free of PED or banned substances. This same message of caution needs to be reinforced by health professionals like athletic trainers, coaches, strength coaches and personal trainers. You just can’t have the health professionals who work with athletes carry a cavalier attitude about using stimulants like ephedrine, pro-hormones, testosterone or growth hormone. This is not the way to gain favor with athletes. It is the responsibility of organizations like the National Athletic Trainers Association, National Strength & Conditioning Association and American College of Sports Medicine to ensure that their membership is willing to practice within a code of ethics that ensure they do all they can to help prevent athletes at all levels to steer clear of PED.

Earlier this year, ACSM and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency formed Professionals Against Doping in Sports (PADS) to discourage steroids and other banned substance use in sports. Its focus is on ensuring that physicians, scientists, and other professionals who work with athletes do not encourage, support, or tolerate the use of banned substances. It’s also up to the administrations around teams to ensure that personnel close to their teams have no record of PED or street drug use. It’s now common to find highly evolved security teams around professional organizations to ensure this is the case. There are just too many gurus (often just big fans of that game) who will do anything to endear themselves to a high-profile athlete, including helping them obtain PED. Expect to see more pressure from teams to mandate that athletes only use team resources for strength training and nutrition guidance. This creates financial pressure on teams to ratchet up the quality of their team support services where team often cut corners. It’s a big-time business for folks at all levels and most operate in the red. Be Warned

Parents and athletes be warned. Whether it be a teammate who looks the part or someone in the local gym who looks the part, be very careful of where you get your advice on how you will go about planning your training during the off-season to make your biggest gains of the year in lean mass. There is no shortage of bad advice available now days, especially via the Internet.

How do you know if you are getting good advice? Not every day of the year should be a weight gain day. Anyone who promises you big results without first asking where you are at with your off-season training does not have your better interest at heart, because if they did, they would look you square in the eye and make sure you understand that there is little time to waste during the off-season to make these gains. And secondly, they would ask who on your team you are training with who would have similar goals. There is no stronger anabolic agent than training with your teammates.

Next, they would query you on the quality of your diet and rest. If the first thing you get is, “these supplements will… ” and tell you, “if you really want to get it rolling call this one guy,” then you need to politely excuse yourself from that conversation and warn your teammates to avoid going there.

I must applaud the efforts of USA Hockey to teach its Festival and National Team Development athletes about how to safely make gains in lean mass using a food first approach in the Fueling Tactics DVDs they began distributed in 2006. Over 3,000 of these DVDs will be distributed to USA Hockey’s top male and female prospects by summer of 2008. USA Hockey’s educational efforts have not gone unnoticed by the USOC or U.S. Anti-Doping. Congratulations to Mark Tabrum and all the coaches in USA Hockey’s Department of Education. To learn more about the Fueling Tactics DVD’s, poster and free pod cast, go to: www.fuelingtactics.com.

In 27 years of practice, Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS, has earned a reputation as a pioneer and leader in the field of recovery nutrition, body composition and frame assessment, and is routinely sought out by professional and college sports teams. Ellis is also an advisor to the U.S. Anti-Doping (USADA), the Professional Baseball Strength & Conditioning Coaches Society (PBSCCS) Advisory Board and the Taylor Hooton Foundation.

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