We left off last week with former Science Editor of Flex, Chris Street, explaining how drug-free bodybuilding and physique enhancement are an “oxymoron” since most competitors are still using drugs to change the look of their bodies.
T-Nation: How depressing! Back to drug testing, most of us on the inside know there’s a lot of crookedness going on in the drug testing arena and a lot of money changing hands. Know anything about that?
Street: This is well documented and there are some inside stories that are pretty funny. Robert Voy, the former chief medical officer of the US Olympic Committee, has some great stories from what went on in the 70’s and 80’s. Charlie Francis could tell you some good stories as well.
More recently, there’s an athlete in track and field who was skirting the drug tests by moving between cities. I won’t say if it was a male or female, but this person was a big name and trained and had residences in two close cities. Drug testing officials would show up to test and magically this person would be training at the other location. They would show up there and, oops sorry, not here either. This back and forth game went on for a long time. From what I understand, this person only tested at major events and was “clean.”
Also, there have been many positives that never got released. An athlete I interviewed told me that when high-resolution gas chromatography-mass specometry was introduced, several U.S. athletes came up positive and the results were never made public. I heard athletes were contacted and told, “You tested positive. Don’t do this again or you’ll get caught at the Olympics.” This occurred before the ’96 Games.
T-Nation: Is that pretty much standard operating procedure?
Street: These things go on often. This isn’t a perfect system, as we don’t live in a perfect world. People have vested interests and there are large sums of money on the line. The drug testing deal is much more complicated than the IOC and the press makes it out to be.
Journalists are in a very difficult situation also. The media is supposed to report the truth, but network and cable television work closely with the IOC, the NFL, MLB, and the NBA. Because of the revenue television receives from sports, they have an interest in not covering a lot of drug stories, or making the stories they do cover not quite as complete as they should be. They too make money from sports and drug stories don’t fair well for the sports leagues or the networks that broadcast their product.
There’s always behind the scenes shuffling. You have to look at the money behind sports; it all gets back to the money.
T-Nation: Professional baseball players. Some say only a few are juicing, others (even former players) say that over half are on the sauce. Any insight?
Street: I thought that the estimates were a little high, but not by much. Yes, a lot of major league players are using. I interviewed several for the book. There are many guys who are a little bigger than what you’d see from a normal baseball player. This isn’t coming from baseball training, their better nutritional regimens, or their improved weight training regimens. It’s a result of their steroid use. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. That old saying has real world application.
I walked into a gym last year where several major league players lift and there was a big name player there doing bent-over rows for reps with 315! Come on bro, 315 bent over rows for reps, with near perfect form? 3-1-5! That’s well and above what a normal drug free baseball player could do. This athlete isn’t one of those guys who’s naturally strong either. There are some men in the population who are extremely strong – not every strong guy is on drugs – but the look of his body and the amount of skeletal muscle he was carrying was drug induced.
I also went back and looked at how his body changed since his rookie season. I lined up pictures in chronological order. You could see where things started to change. You can clearly identify when an unnatural shift in body composition began.
As far as baseball players, physiologically it’s impossible for a sexually mature, adult male to add 20 to 30 pounds of lean tissue by training and nutrition alone. The baseball player at the gym had augmented his hormone levels. He was also training with a personal trainer who has no strength coaching experience in a college or professional setting. The trainer is what I’d call a “drug guy.” You do the math.
T-Nation: Wow, that’s some fascinating insight. Is there a solution to the performance enhancing drug problem in sports? Drug testing obviously isn’t the answer… or is it?
Street: This is a great question. I’m not for completely opening up sports for drug use. That gives me a bad feeling. I do have a purist side to me that says this is a bad idea. But, I also feel that society has bigger fish to fry than putting so much money into keeping what amounts to a handful of elite athletes off performance enhancing drugs.
People are worried about the influence professional athletes have on children and about the health of kids, both morally and physically. If you’re truly worried about children getting into drug use and an amoral lifestyle, worry about nicotine and alcohol prevention. From a public health standpoint, these are much more serious issues than kids using steroids.
If you look at patterns of steroid use, even those high school kids that do use, they take the drugs only for a brief period of time. When they move on to college, most of them no longer participate in sports and steroid use is hence forgotten. Some will continue to use for physique enhancement, but the numbers are very small.
T-Nation: Didn’t you publish something about this once?
Street: Yes, but the study actually focused on adult patterns of use. A few years ago Joey Antonio and I published a survey study looking at patterns of steroid use on the U.S./Mexican border. While collecting data at various gyms, I spent time with high school athletes. These were kids that had unlimited access to steroids by way of Mexico. Basically, these were 15 to 18 year old guys who could drive about ten minutes and have any steroid they wanted. I was surprised to see how few of the high school football players were using.
Away from the border, in middle America and on the East coast, I think it’s an overstatement to say we have an adolescent steroid problem in this country. While the supply chain for steroids is solidified, it’s still not that easy for a high school student to obtain steroids. The Internet is changing this dynamic, somewhat, but steroids are not flowing like water through American high schools. Even young people who have unlimited access, as those living in border towns, aren’t using as much as you’d assume.
I’m not sure why, but for whatever reason, large numbers of kids aren’t interested in hormones. I believe NIDA [National Institutes of Drug Abuse], high school coaches, and parents have done an excellent job in preventing adolescent steroid use. That, and I think most kids aren’t terribly interested in steroids. There are other recreational drugs that are more entertaining for high schoolers than androgens.
T-Nation: Back to pro-sports. Do you see any solution to the drug issue in professional athletics?
Street: The solution to having a go at drug free sport is separating the athletic use of steroids from their recreational use. An adult, non-athletic male who’s taking steroids for physique enhancement isn’t cheating. This is a guy who just wants to look better in a tank top.
Society should operate on a different set of rules than the athletic world. For kids and adults involved in competitive athletics, no, you can’t use drugs. In the name of fairness, it’s not part of the rules. But, an adult male who wants to feel better about himself and makes a personal choice about using steroids based on a risk-to-benefit ratio, this should be allowed under a doctor’s auspices.
Such a protocol would permit sports entities and government programs to focus just on competitive athletics and fairness in that realm. Women who compete in the Miss America pageant are prohibited from getting breast implants, but we don’t outlaw women in general society from getting this surgery. This analogy applies nicely to the steroid situation.
T-Nation: Yeah, it sure does. I never thought of it that way. Sounds like you’re for legalization?
Street: I’m not crazy about using that wording. It sounds too extreme. I wish Americans were not so black and white in our thinking. Either we want steroids eradicated from the planet or it’s gonna be total mayhem, everyone is on ‘roids. That kind of “all or none” thinking, while comforting to some, isn’t the answer.
I’m not in favor of people using steroids, or other drugs for that matter. But we need to look at society realistically. Men are going to use these drugs. This has become evident. The Anabolic Steroid Control Act hasn’t worked. Since enactment of the law, steroid use has continued and increased. You can simply look at popular culture as far as the ideal male physique. Steroids are entrenched in the fitness movement. The only way to go back is by putting people in jail and using Draconian measures of punishment. We don’t go back, society moves forward.
What’s needed now is a program of harm reduction and more realistic laws. Law enforcement has done a great job; they’ve done the best they can, but they were put into a game they couldn’t win. You can’t expect the DEA and the police to solve all of America’s problems. These agencies need to focus on drugs that negatively impact the safety of America like opiates, cocaine, amphetamine and amphetamine-related compounds. These are drugs, if not strictly controlled, which have a destructive impact on society.
In a simplistic manner, comparing steroid use to other illegal drugs, no one is going to hold up a convenience store or rob somebody’s home to get a shot of Testosterone.
T-Nation: How can this perception regarding steroids be changed?
Street: In my humble opinion, what’s needed now is a program of harm reduction based solely on the scientific literature. I believe androgens should be reduced from a schedule III to a schedule IV substance and allow physicians to prescribe and monitor those adults who choose to take these drugs. Physicians should be at the helm, not law enforcement.
Maybe in the future it would be advisable to have a subspecialty of plastic surgery or endocrinology that treats men who want to augment their body composition with androgens. I think the parallel to this is women getting breast implants. I may be wrong in having this idea, but we have to look at what’s been done in the past as far as legislation and prevention. The very best that the old guard could do has gotten us into a bad situation. I shudder to say this, but steroid use isn’t decreasing. Just look at the media reports and popular fitness magazines.
The largest group of individuals using steroids aren’t elite athletes, but adult men who take the drugs to improve the look of their bodies. Unmonitored drug use is what we have at present amongst the cohort taking these drugs. I believe it would be worth thinking about a different way to handle this issue. There’s a better way to deal with the problem of drug use both in competitive athletes and in society.
I think we can effectively separate the two and achieve the goal of having fair play in sport and safer use in popular culture. We may even see a decrease in use due to physicians being involved and law enforcement punishing those who don’t go through proper channels, similar to what’s done with prescription narcotics. Yes, some people will abuse the system, but we attempt to punish them. What I’m proposing isn’t a perfect system, but it may be a better and safer alternative to what we have at present.
T-Nation: It’s a good point, Chris. I want to get back to competitive athletics. What’s the “next big thing” in the steroid and performance enhancing drug scene?
Street: There are some designer steroids out that are being used to successfully beat drug tests, but that’s not the problem. You don’t need a designer steroid to beat a drug screen. Athletes beating drug tests on a regular basis aren’t taking designer steroids. The single biggest factor in regards to escaping detection is something that no laboratory can overcome. Don Catlin at the UCLA lab knows this and it keeps him up at night.
T-Nation: So how do athletes beat the tests?
Street: Knowledge of human physiology and drug metabolism is what beats drug testing. Steroids are training drugs, not competition drugs like modafinil or other stimulants. By adjusting an athlete’s training when on drugs and coming off, the body can continue performing at supraphysiologic levels.
The effects that androgens and peptide hormones have on skeletal muscle and on the central nervous system last long after the drugs are discontinued. An athlete can dope and still attain a world-class performance in competition and not test positive simply by implementing a well-designed training program and knowledge of drug clearance.
T-Nation: Makes sense. So where do designer ‘roids come into the picture?
Street: Designer steroids come into play with both random and in-competition testing. If a lab doesn’t have an assay for a drug, they can’t detect it. But, this and masking techniques have never been foolproof methods for doping because a good lab can always catch up. It’s a cat and mouse game, and in time the cat always wins.
The way to stop drug use is stringent, and I mean stringent, random, out of season and in-season testing. The test results should be immediately published online as well as all attempts to test the athletes. The testers show up and the athlete isn’t available, this is archived for the public to view.
The problem is the expense and vested interests. Does Dick Pound and the World Anti-Doping Association really want to stop drug use? There’s a way, but I think they really don’t want to go there. They’re scared. The truth can be brought out, but how bad do you want it?
The United States just gave WADA eight hundred thousand dollars. The United States just took eight hundred thousand dollars and flushed it down the toilet. Athletes at the upcoming Olympics will be loaded, and it’ll be business as usual and Dick Pound will continue saying what a good job he’s doing and Don Catlin will still be rolling around the California hills in his Porsche.
Meanwhile, we have major social problems in America that need to be addressed. Science has had a decrease in funding, we have people who don’t have health care, we have real life problems and Americans that could use our help, and we just gave WADA eight hundred thousand dollars so they can save the world from a few elite athletes taking steroids! That money could have been used for a higher purpose.
The situation just doesn’t make sense, except when you realize that sports is about money. Professional athletics, the Olympic Games included, is a business. Keep saying this figure to yourself – eight hundred thousand dollars. Sport is big business and don’t you forget it.
T-Nation: Eye-opening stuff, Chris! Now, you mentioned a book earlier in the interview. What’s going on with that?
Street: The book is done and I’m actively looking for a publisher. It’s a scientific and journalistic look at steroid use in athletics and in society. I reviewed the anabolic steroids commonly used both by athletes and for physique enhancement in great detail. I wanted the book to be an insider’s look at these drugs and give an insider’s view on how they’re being used. This is done, I hope, looking at all sides of the debate with fairness and candor.
I also wanted the book strongly based on the scientific literature. My new book is an information resource for those who want a deeper understanding of steroids and how the drugs exert their effects on the human body. With a lot of legwork, I interviewed professional athletes from track and field, the NFL, major league baseball, the NBA, and bodybuilding. These are individuals who agreed to sit down with me for an open and honest dialogue and their drug cycles are going to be published.
T-Nation: Wow. How about you let T-Nation publish some of those chapters right here on this site?
Street: Hey, sounds good to me. We can call it “The Steroid Interviews.”
T-Nation: Chris, we look forward to it. Thanks for the interview! I’ve made you late for your date so you better haul!
Street: Thanks, Shugs. Enjoyed the chat!
Editor’s note: The first sample chapter from Chris Street’s new book will take a look at androgens in baseball. Look for it at T-Nation in about a month.