Sports

Are You On Performance-Enhancing Drugs?


This is the best bagel he's ever eaten

Photograph by David Brandon Geeting for Bloomberg Businessweek

This is the best bagel he's ever eaten

You have trouble concentrating
Without a prescription, Adderall, the attention-deficit drug, is universally banned at any dosage in competition, from the Olympics to Nascar, as an amphetamine. “It works on the parts of the brain associated with focus and perceptions of effort,” says Dr. Michael Joyner of the Mayo Clinic. In early April, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who was suspended in 2012 after testing positive for Adderall (but later won his appeal), was quoted saying that half the NFL uses the drug—an assertion the league swiftly denied.

You’re a bagel lover
“If you’re applying for a new job, don’t eat poppy seeds, because you can test positive for opiates,” says Dr. Linn Goldberg, a specialist in sports nutrition at the Oregon Health & Science University. As a narcotic, opiates are banned from all athletic competition. A quarter teaspoon of seeds is enough to trigger a positive test, says Leslie Bonci, director of sports medicine nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Opiates were some of endurance sports’ earliest doping agents, consumed as pain relievers.

You’re a Jamba Juice-head
Your daily energy boost may contain a central nervous system stimulant, synephrine, forbidden at any dosage by the NCAA, the NFL, and the World Anti-Doping Agency. “My recommendation to athletes getting smoothies: just fruit, no add-ins,” Bonci says. On energy drink or protein bar labels, synephrine may go by euphemisms such as “bitter orange” or “citrus aurantium.” “You see it now added to lots of products,” says Bonci.

You have allergies
Ubiquitous cold-and-flu remedies and decongestants such as Sudafed contain pseudoephedrine and are prohibited by the NFL, the NBA, and the World Anti-Doping Agency. “Pseudoephedrine increases alertness, heart rate, and energy availability,” says Dr. Scott Rodeo, a surgeon and physician to the U.S. Olympic Swim Team and the NFL’s New York Giants. According to the WADA, 150 micrograms per milliliter in one’s urine is too much. “That would probably be two to three times the recommended dosage,” Dr. Goldberg says.

You’re getting huge
Store-bought dietary and workout supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and “many are contaminated with testosterone agents—it’s take at your own risk,” Dr. Rodeo says. As anabolic substances that build muscle and quicken recovery, they’re universally banned. In MLB, players are tested on the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone in the bloodstream. “Most people are 1 to 1,” Dr. Goldberg says. A ratio greater than 4 to 1 is considered too high.

You’re feeling sluggish
The NCAA bans caffeine in concentrations exceeding 15 micrograms per milliliter. “That’s anywhere from 8 to 12 cups of coffee,” says Bonci, who notes that it’s also widely consumed in pill form. According to Dr. Norman Fost of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, an athlete was once “banned from NCAA competition for a year” after consuming two grande lattes from Starbucks (SBUX) before a championship.

Mayo is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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