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Anabolic Steroids: Leveling the playing field?

April 8th, 2009 · No Comments

Written by Anthony Roberts
Saturday, 14 February 2009 12:56

“There comes a time in a man’s life where, if there are no windows or doors, he must walk through a wall.

~Bernard Malamud

If you’re like me, you learned about the Declaration of Independence when you were in grade school-if not, that’s the thing that says, “All men are created equal.” You then went out into the schoolyard for recess, and for some reason, maybe you couldn’t run as fast as some of your classmates. Perhaps you couldn’t jump as high, or throw a ball as far. All men created equal? Bah! What a load of garbage!

Let’s talk a bit about genetics, ok?

There have been a ton of studies on genetics, and basically, current research from the Bouchard Labs strongly suggests that up to 50% of the variance in athletic performance, potential, and adaptation to training is genetic. In other areas such as height, the genetic contribution to inter-individual variance is around 80%. Basically, the Bouchards have suggested that athletes are born, and if they aren’t, then they are certainly born with more potential to react favorably to training. How about gaining or losing weight? Are you always struggling to gain weight? Are you always struggling to lose it? Bouchard’s work in this area states that there is familial aggregation of Body-Mass-Index (BM) and other body composition characteristics such as body fat percentage, metabolism of adipose (fat) tissue, etc. Bouchard’s work claims that genetic heritability is responsible for between 25 to 40% of these traits.

Wanna be even more depressed? Check out your fingers and which is longer, the index finger or the ring finger? The ring finger in males is usually longer than the index finger; however, the fingers are about the same length in females. This suggests the role of testosterone in early pre-childhood development (Manning, 2000). The more testosterone you produced as a fetus the longer your ring finger got, so the smaller the index/ring finger ratio.

Who cares? Men with smaller finger ratios are considerably better athletes. NO! I’m not kidding. They are more likely to become athletes and to reach much higher levels in most sports (Manning & Taylor, 2001). Professional football (soccer) players tend to have lower finger ratios than non-athletes. Starting players have lower ratios than reserve or youth team players. Footballers who have represented their country have lower finger ratios than those who haven’t. Men with lower finger ratios even run faster 800 m and 1500 m races! And that’s all clearly genetics.

Remember that kid in the schoolyard who was taller than you, and was always picked first for basketball games? Clearly he has the genetics to be taller than you. But wait, it gets worse: if he has the right genetics, you can train just as hard as him, but he’ll receive a more favorable response from it! Add in some favorable muscle tie-ins, connective tissues, the right muscle belly length, and some decent fast twitch fiber recruitment, and that kid will pretty much beat you at any sport. And those are all simply genetic traits. You can work as hard as him and lose. Even worse, you can work harder than him and still lose.

Ok, so if you are one of the genetic elite, then that’s all great for you. If you were the kid who was always picked first for dodgeball in gym class then that’s all well and good for you. If you are like me, however, one of the genetically average, keep reading because there may be a solution.

When testing for anabolic steroids wasn’t done in certain elite level track events, (a brief period in the 80’s) the results for the women’s events began to catch up with the men’s results. When testing was resumed, it began to fall off and the gap began to widen once again. Women simply don’t have the same hormones, fast twitch muscle make up and overall structure that make men more successful in those events. And, being a woman is certainly genetic… Since they were all elite level athletes, it can safely be assumed that their training and diet regimens were optimal. So, how did women begin to bridge that gap? Steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, it has been speculated, were the “X-Factor” in helping women track athletes catch up with their male counterparts. Remove sports doping rules from competition, allow athletes to use whatever they want, and the “uneven” playing field is gone; no more claims of who may or may not have cheated. The hypocrisy would disappear too…

Take away the genetic advantage, and what will you have left to decide who wins athletic events? You will have training, diet, and most importantly, the will to succeed. I’d much rather see athletes compete on an even genetic ground (even if it is “evened up” by performance enhancing drugs); a ground where the deciding factor will be heart and guts, not genetics. Performance enhancing drugs won’t win athletic events for someone, but they’ll help to remove the inequality and accidental nature of a genetic disadvantage. What will be left if we take genetics out of the picture?

Determination.

Heart.

Guts.

And isn’t that what should decide athletics?

Tags: Anabolic Steroids · General

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