April 2013 Issue

Enhancing Performance
By Judith Riddle
Today’s Dietitian
Vol. 15 No. 4 P. 6

You’ve all heard the shocking news: Lance Armstrong, one of America’s greatest athletes, finally confessed to using several performance-enhancing drugs throughout most of his cycling career to win championship after championship, including seven Tour de France races.

In Oprah Winfrey’s worldwide exclusive interview with Armstrong back in January, the cyclist admitted to not only using performance-enhancing drugs but also engaging in illegal blood-doping practices. He used cortisone to relieve the pain associated with rigorous training regimens and competition, testosterone injections to improve muscle mass and bone density, human growth hormone to further boost muscle mass and lower body fat, and the worst of them all, the banned substance erythropoietin, more popularly known as EPO, a natural hormone the kidneys produce that increases red blood cell production. Armstrong received blood transfusions of manufactured EPO to raise his red blood cell count to enhance oxygen delivery to his muscles so they’d perform better—hence the term blood doping, an illicit practice of increasing your red blood cell count before competition.

Armstrong used extreme measures to win and stay on top, but we all know he’s not the only professional athlete who’s used illegal performance-enhancing substances. Throughout the history of professional sports competitions, athletes have used illicit substances to remain competitive, including Olympic track stars Marion Jones and Ben Johnson, pro baseball players Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds, and the 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis, among others.

Our feature article “Ergogenic Aids” covers this topic. We don’t focus on the types of drugs or the extreme practices of Armstrong. Instead, we evaluate the scientific evidence for and against some of the more common nutritional performance-enhancers used among competitive athletes, such as creatine and chromium picolinate, to inform dietitians so they can better counsel clients.

Tell us what you think about this article and the use of performance-enhancing substances among athletes as well as the experiences you’ve had counseling clients who use them on our Facebook and Twitter pages. And please enjoy the rest of the issue!