I'm running late when I pull into the overflowing parking lot of Tokyo One. I hate being late, but traffic in Dallas on a Saturday night is as busy as Bangkok's.
The restaurant's parking lot is already packed with Mercedes G-Wagons, Escalades, and Porsches. The valet parking is full so I park roughly three and a half miles from the eatery and sprint back. It's dark inside but I can tell the person I'm meeting is already there. He's sitting at a table in the back, looking big, looking mean, and looking right at me. We shake hands, say our hellos, and he orders a glass of water, no ice.
Meeting with a well known performance enhancement guru can be daunting. This guy knows things. He knows things that would scandalize the bodybuilding and sporting worlds. He's been on the inside, the dark side, and maybe, just maybe, he knows people that could make me disappear.
Lucky for me, Chris Street is not that kind of steroid expert. This former science editor of FLEX magazine is a scientist in training and a scholar, not to mention a really nice guy. In spite of his rough exterior, he's soft spoken and displays perfect manners and a level of politeness that seem almost out of place in today's world.
Street turned down my offer to buy him a sushi dinner and a beer, saying he had a dinner date later that evening. He didn't want to eat, he wanted to get some things off his chest, things he hasn't had the opportunity to say since he left his job with Weider.
I ordered some saki, piled my plate up with a small ocean's worth of salmon, and hit the button on my tape recorder.
Testosterone Nation: Chris, you were the science editor of FLEX, worked for Muscle & Fitness for several years, and made quite a name for yourself. Then poof! You disappeared. Where have you been and what are you doing now?
Chris Street: I signed with Weider after graduate school. The whole thing moved very quickly. Six months after I signed the contract I was named science editor of FLEX. Shortly after signing, I was at the Arnold Classic and got a call that Joe Weider wanted to meet with me. It caught me totally by surprise.
After a very cool meeting, I was like, holy shit, I just had a business meeting with Joe Weider! All I could do was smile. For a then 26 year old guy who grew up reading the muscle magazines it was a special time for me. There were both good and bad things working for Weider, but when it all averaged out I'd say it was an incredible experience. I worked for FLEX and Muscle & Fitness for almost five years.
T-Nation: Why'd you leave?
Street: I felt like I'd achieved all I could achieve at Weider and it was time to move on. There were some other things I wanted to accomplish. I wanted to write a book, work more with strength coaching, and begin scientific training in the area of molecular biology. I've just finished the book and I hope people will find it an interesting read.
While I was working with Weider Publications, I had a blast and made the most of it. I was backstage at every major bodybuilding event, hanging out, talking with everyone. I was also able to go to the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and the World Series.
At the time I worked for Weider I was an assistant strength coach at a Division I college, so I was having a great time. I was part journalist, part science guy, part strength coach. When I was writing I worked hard, and it means a lot to me that you would say I made a name for myself. I was really proud of the "Word from the Street" column that I did for FLEX and the articles I wrote. I tried to make the FLEX column one without a political agenda and just write the truth about performance enhancing drugs.
At the time you had only two voices, the drug gurus like Dan Duchaine who were totally pro drugs and the anti steroid camp, which were blindly against any steroid use whatsoever. I thought neither side was correct and the truth was in the middle. The story had to be told from the scientific literature. I hope my book has the same effect.
T-Nation: The last time we hung out you had some interesting things to say about that whole THG scandal. What the hell is really going on there?
Street: The THG story is twofold. One, you have the story of the drug itself, and then you have the story of Victor Conte and Balco. Let's get into the drug first. I believe THG is ineffective in men and only mildly effective in women in regards to being anabolic in skeletal muscle. I've looked at the structure and while it does look like trenbolone, it also resembles progesterone-like drugs.
You have to remember, steroid biochemistry is exquisitely complex. Change an oxygen on a ring structure or take off a hydrogen on the steroid molecule and you completely change the activity of the drug in regards to both the enzymatic pathways the drug travels and how it's recognized at the androgen receptor. What seem like very small modifications equate to huge changes for a given steroid at the receptor level.
Think of it like simple geometry. If you have a round peg that fits tightly into a hole, then slightly change the shape of the peg and it no longer fits the hole or this configurational change makes it more difficult for a fit to occur. Steroid activity is all about enzymatic interactions and how the steroid molecule fits into the receptor site. I can't stress enough how important this is to understand. There are a lot of steroids that closely resemble each other. But a close resemblance doesn't mean the drug is as potent as the steroid that has activity in muscle tissue.
Science is changing all the time. I might be proven wrong, but right now based on applied knowledge of steroid chemistry and from looking at the structure, I don't think THG is effective in men. Women may be slightly different. I hope experiments will be conducted looking at the compound's anabolic activity, but what I think they'll find is that THG is ineffective.
The men who've tested positive, especially the NFL players and the Olympic shot putter, were not big because they were using THG. They were using other, more potent androgens as well.
T-Nation: Aha! That makes sense.
Street: It's interesting to note how the press jumped on the story and assumed the compound worked. I thought that was somewhat irresponsible of them. It did make for interesting copy though. The story of THG is now moving towards who synthesized the drug. Organic chemists in the United States are being consulted and I believe the drug itself came from a lab overseas, with someone here in the States helping. There's no paper trail right now so authorities are having a tough time tracking the manufacturer.
T-Nation: So how does Balco Labs figure into all of this?
Street: I need to say I don't know Victor Conte personally. I can't comment on him personally and what I'm about to say isn't a personal attack. I'm attacking his science. I think his blood testing screams of quackery. There's no science to back the claims that his nutritional blood testing works. None! If you look at how he conducted the blood assays and his subsequent recommendation of supplements, it's dishonest.
T-Nation: How so?
Street: He did blood tests on people, many who were very wealthy, and depending on what these blood tests showed, he sold them supplements to correct a deficiency. He had a vested interest in these individuals being mineral deficient. What he said they were deficient in, he then sold them supplements. Again, he stood to make a profit from the athletes being deficient based on an assay that had no scientific validity.
Interestingly, in the February 1999 issue of FLEX, an article was published stating that Conte ran tests on Flex Wheeler's blood. According to the article, the tests showed no serious deviations from normal. He also asserted in the article sidebar that Balco blood testing showed no biochemical abnormalities from the drugs that Wheeler and other professional bodybuilders were using. Conte claimed to have tested their liver enzymes and cholesterol levels. This is complete bullshit.
T-Nation: Why is that?
Street: I heard what a lot of these guys were using and there's no way they weren't having side effects from their drug use. For those who don't know, Flex underwent major surgery for kidney problems unrelated to steroid use. If Conte's blood tests can detect mineral imbalances and other biochemical abnormalities, why then did he not see that Wheeler had a developing problem?
In addition to the lack of science supporting Balco, the Wheeler blood tests should be questioned in light of his disease and recent surgery.
I want people to see that Balco's blood testing has no scientific credibility and was done purely for the company's monetary gain, not to help athletes. The same goes for THG. Victor is a marketer, a supplement guy. His goal is to make lots of money. The quest for cash is at the root of his nutritional business and at the root of THG. If the government looks to the money trail in regards to Balco, they'll find their answer to how and why THG was developed.
T-Nation: Very interesting. We should note that we've attempted to get another interview with Conte about all this, but have received no response.
Okay, let's talk pro-bodybuilding. Governor Arnold was quoted a few months ago as saying that sports needed strict and tight controls, just like in professional bodybuilding "where they're tested so they won't use drugs." Is he senile already or what?
Street: That's funny. I like Arnold very much. I think he's a great American. In my opinion, he's in many ways the ultimate American success story. Whether or not you agree with his politics, you have to agree he can be a powerful figure for American government. But, I think this statement was an oversight on his part.
He knows bodybuilding isn't clean, just like everyone else knows. I think he was trying to make bodybuilding look good, which he should do since he's the most famous bodybuilder in the world and certainly the most powerful. In part, bodybuilding made Arnold what he is today, and he owes a lot to the sport. I think his comments can be justified, but I think he was incorrect. Bodybuilding is not drug free. But, what we can say about professional bodybuilding is that all of the participants are on an even playing field, because they're all on drugs!
T-Nation: That's true. Arnold looked pretty good in Terminator 3. Think he's still using, maybe just for certain roles? Also, what were his stacks really like in the good old days? We've heard they were heavier than he let on.
Street: I didn't see T3, but in some of his earlier movies, I especially remember Commando, he had what I call a drugged physique. He certainly appeared to be using.
As far as the question about dosages, a lot of the old timers say they took minimal amounts. If you ask some of them, they say that they only took five to ten milligrams a day of Dianabol. I think it's unlikely. I think these guys were using more. It's posturing. No one likes to admit how much they really take. I've met very few professionals who readily admit to what they take or took in the past.
There are a few who are honest and those are the guys who I have a high opinion of. I respect their honesty. I think Arnold used higher dosages than he reported, but at least he admitted to using. I believe that took character. Let's think about it this way, what would you admit to doing if you had the chance to be elected governor of your state?
T-Nation: I'd probably have to stop talking about Asian girls, group showers, and having sex in Banana Republic's dressing rooms.
Street: I thought so. I wouldn't say too much either. We make it impossible for people in political office to tell the truth. From Orin Hatch to Arnold and all points in between, there's not a single American politician deserving of sainthood. I've met very few saints in my lifetime.
In regards to the question, it's apparent Arnold did use his share of steroids, but I say who cares, leave him alone and let him do the best he can. The past is the past. Whatever Arnold did is irrelevant; what matters now is what he can do for the people of California and the American political system. Arnold has a chance to make a difference in American politics.
T-Nation: I hope so. Let's switch directions a bit and talk about drug testing in bodybuilding and sports. Isn't drug testing like putting the fox in charge of the hen house? If pro-bodybuilding truly went drug free, it would go "out of business" so to speak and dry up. Could a magazine like FLEX survive these days in a truly drug free environment?
Street: This was attempted before and failed. We have to look at the money behind bodybuilding and sports in general. Where does the revenue come from? Bodybuilding itself, as a spectator sport, doesn't fund the sport. There's no television revenue like for football or basketball. The entities that make money for bodybuilding are the magazines and supplement sales.
If bodybuilding and the big magazines like FLEX were to go drug free, people would turn elsewhere. Another organization would spring up and other magazines would be produced featuring the bigger, steroid using men and women. New magazines would be on newsstands and people would look to them to be entertained.
A few years ago, Steve Blechman went against the grain by taking Muscular Development drug free. The magazine didn't do well, but he should be respected for trying something new. I think FLEX would love to be drug free. The staff there, from my experience, cares about the sport and the competitors, but they have to follow the marketplace. It's not their job to parent the bodybuilders; FLEX and the other magazines merely report on the sport. Nothing more, nothing less.
T-Nation: Many would say that Weider is at least partially responsible for the prevalence of steroids in bodybuilding because his magazines establish an ideal that can only be achieved with drugs.
Street: Initially, Joe Weider took heat for the sport's involvement in steroids, but there's no way Joe Weider could've stopped steroid use. Saying this is like blaming the publisher of Vogue for women getting breast implants.
Steroid use, literally and figuratively, was a mass movement in society. This is an example of when science, sociology, and human nature came together in a head-on collision. Since the late 80's, steroids have moved out of bodybuilding into the mainstream fitness movement. For drug free bodybuilding to take hold now, a major shift in society would have to take place. This, in and of itself, is an impossibility. Not to mention that some rebel would come along and start publishing a magazine featuring the steroid guys, and people would look there to see something different.
T-Nation: Okay, but even "natural" bodybuilding isn't very natural, is it?
Street: Right. People need to see that even drug free bodybuilding doesn't pass IOC standards. The drug free guys may not be using steroids or GH, but they do use high doses of ephedrine and caffeine, yohimbine, and sometimes clenbuterol to get their bodyfat to competition levels.
I interviewed a guy who was a very successful drug free bodybuilder and he was very proud of his drug free lifestyle. Then at the end of the interview he ran down what he uses to get in "drug free" shape. He was steroid free, but he was nowhere near drug free! For the bodybuilding world and fitness community he was drug free, but for the rest of the world, including the IOC, this is not drug free.
Drug free bodybuilding and physique enhancement is an oxymoron. These men and women are still using drugs to change the look of their bodies. For most normal individuals in society to walk around with a six pack of abs, extremely low body fat, and a high degree of skeletal muscle, this isn't possible without intense dieting and in most cases some type of drug use, be that a low dose of steroids or body fat lowering drugs.
– Next week in part 2, Chris Street talks about drug use in professional sports. Highly recommended stuff!