The Steroid Stereotype

Brock and Reem

Picture Courtesy of mmamania.com

The Steroid Stereotype
By: Eugene Tsozik PT, DPT

With all of the recent MMA news regarding steroids and drug test failures, I felt that some interesting points came of it. Does it matter if someone “pops” out of competition as long as they are not using during the match or fight? If everyone uses steroids or performance enhancing drugs, doesn’t it make it a “level playing field.” What if an older athlete’s body is no longer producing the appropriate amount of testosterone, shouldn’t they be allowed to supplement in order to be on the same level as a younger and “in their prime” athlete? Are there safe levels of performance enhancing drugs? Does it make the fight or competition more exciting? What about dealing with injuries? Are the athletes less likely to get injured? More likely to get injured? What about using HGH (human growth hormone), testosterone, or performance enhancing drugs to deal with recovery from an injury?

For many people who discuss the topic of steroids, it is either right or wrong. Are you cheating by taking steroids or enhancing your natural ability? Does intention make a difference?

Ken Shamrock suggested in an interview that performance enhancing drugs should be both allowed and possibly regulated at “safe levels?” But what is a safe level for competition? Is a safe level the same for every fighter? Different for certain weight classes? Males vs. females?

Jon Jones got caught with an estrogen blocker, which is often used for blocking estrogen from the body when experiencing increased testosterone levels while cycling off of steroids. What about Brock Lesnar? You could say he was “juiced to the gills” and has been using for a while. Just finally got caught? According to Nate Diaz, “Everyone is on steroids.”

This is such a loaded topic with so many complex questions. I myself have never taken anything above protein and creatine. But would I ever consider taking a growth hormone or a steroid to help recover from an injury? Well, if it would get me back on the jiu-jitsu mats sooner, then that could be a possibility. Looking at the affects as far as how it may impact my health negatively is a thing to consider. There is give and take. Plus and minus. You get something but you must give something up, and nothing is without some type of consequence. It is a sliding scale of good and bad, advantage against debilitation.

From a physical therapy and medical stand point, people use steroids all the time. That cortisone injection you got in your knee…well that is reducing the swelling and taking out the pain to get you back to functioning. Oral steroids are also used to fight inflammatory responses in the muscle tissue. Not all steroids are bad if used appropriately. Again getting a steroid injection too many times can destroy the healthy tissue and cause damage. There is a balance to everything. A sweet spot that should have optimal results.

Using steroids in the process of recovering form injury such as Anderson Silva’s broken leg is a no brainer. He would be able to regrow muscle tissue faster, get back to activity faster, and ultimately get back in the octagon faster. Something he would have difficulty doing at 40+ years of age when the body’s muscle production slows as compared to a younger mid 20’s athlete.

I feel that there is a place and time for steroids. If you have a league where everyone is monitored and on the same levels, then as long as it is regulated why not? But if you have one guy on steroids who can punch a hole through a skull, and someone who is not, you can end up with unfair advantages. Reaction time, power, endurance, speed, and overall performance improved in those using “banned substances” according to USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency).

An athlete with a limited reaction time as compared to an athlete on performance enhancing drugs, an athlete that can punch or kick harder, or even take a punch better are all factors that obviously enhance someones chance to impose their will on the opponent and could allow more damage to be inflicted which in turn could led to serious injury.

Currently, no deaths have been related to performance enhancing drugs but is it just a matter of time? How is the playing field leveled or allowed to be even? Should different rules for out of competition testing be allowed, and then lower levels or no levels at all be found within a certain time surrounding the competition?

I do believe there is a place and time for certain “performance-enhancing drugs.” I believe that athletes at the top of their levels such as MMA fighters in the UFC or even top grapplers should have some level of lee-way for out of competition testing which would allow for the athletes to stay healthier, possibly even prevent injury, and even help recover from injury. The problem is that people always look to “game” the rules and take advantage.

The health field is advancing and so are the athletes. My goal as a Physical Therapist is to have the healthiest athletes performing at their optimal level with the least likelihood of injury while competing. Whatever gets us to that point remains to be seen and the “steroid debate” will continue to “rage” on.

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