Doping and banned substances

What is doping?

Doping occurs when athletes or other sports professionals use illicit aids and substances banned from use in their particular sport. These contraband supplements are usually band as they provide an above normal boost in the person’s performance.

The UKAD (UK Anti-Doping) website provides a criteria and a ‘prohibited list’ indicating what substances are banned. Substances include in the ‘prohibited list’ usually meet at least two of the following criteria:

  • Possibility of positively augmenting sports performance
  • Genuine or potential health risk to an athlete
  • Violates the spirit of the sport.

Certain methods or substances are banned simply for their ability potential to mask other prohibited substances.

In-competition and Out-of-competition

The Prohibited List provides details of substances that are banned at all times whilst in professional sport or athletics and those which are only banned whilst in competition. Athletes should be cautious and remember the following:·

  • Even if taken out-of-competition, if certain substances are present in the sample given for an in-competition test, it can result in an Anti-Doping Rule Violation (ADRV)
  • Different substances will stay in the system for different lengths of time. This can range from hours to months
  • It is sometime difficult for medical staff to advise on the time it takes for a substance to pass through a person’s system as this differs from athlete to athlete.
  • The safest way of being confident you have no substances in your system that is prohibited in-competition is to try and avoid them at all times.

Below is a list of certain well known banner performance enhancing methods and substances.

Anabolic steroids

The most well-known agents that have been associated with doping are anabolic steroids also known as ergogenic aids. They are also referred to medically as Anabolic Androgenic Steroids (AAS) as typically steroids are developed from the class of male sex hormones (androgens ). Androgens are essential in promoting and enhancing certain features of the male body and are therefore used to build muscle faster than standard convention.

No fewer than 68 different anabolic steroids are available according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on the list of illegal substances. An enormous amount of these are banned due to the given dangers associated with their use. Because of their sometimes fatal side effects, using any of the whole range of anabolic substances as doping agents is strongly discouraged.

Among the main side effects is the increased likelihood of a hormonal imbalance in both genders, therefore women who use anabolic steroids are more likely to build more masculine features such as a deeper voice and possibly develop hirsutism (excessive female facial hair). Men on the other hand are at risk of developing enlarged breasts (gynecomastia). In certain cases, anabolic steroids can also have a negative impact on physical and mental health and cause:

  • Infertility
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Aggression
  • Liver damage
  • Elevated blood lipids
  • Organ failure


Another group of substances that are classified under the banned category are “hormones” also in the class of ergogenic aids. Unlike .Androgenic anabolic steroids (anabolic steroids) they are non-steroidal hormones with the most commonly known hormones, being erythropoietin (EPO), insulin, growth hormone and IGF-1. Their effects overlap partially with those of anabolic steroids.

Erythropoietin (EPO)

EPO has been added to the doping list since 1990 and received particular notoriety in its use in the Tour de France. This particular hormone is produced by the kidneys and promotes the increased formation of red blood cells. A higher proportion of red blood cells are then able to transport more oxygen in the blood and as a result this greatly improves the individual’s endurance performance

Side effects of taking EPO exist primarily in the development of high blood pressure, angina, an irregular heartbeat and in extreme cases even to death.

Note: A targeted altitude training regime can improve he number of red blood cells in the body, increasing endurance performance naturally.


Insulin works in a very efficient way, as not only does it ensure that nutrients are absorbed into the cells quickly, it also inhibits their breaking down and promotes anabolic processes in the body. This in turn usually results in an increase in body and muscle mass.

If used improperly though, insulin can have serious adverse effects on the body. The side effects that can be experienced include hypoglycaemia (very sharp drop in blood sugar levels) which then leads to headaches, increased hunger, confusion, insomnia, tremors, convulsions, respiratory distress, and even coma or in extreme cases to death.

Note: Eating a sensible diet and exercising with heavier loads can improve anabolic hormone levels naturally and safely

Growth Hormone

Growth hormones are chemicals which are formed in the brain. In children, these hormones cause them to grow taller based on their genetic predisposition and overall development. This chemical contributes to the biological growth that occurs involving the enlargement of the limbs and facial features (chin, forehead, ears, etc.)

The reason growth hormones are placed in the category of a doping substance is due to their stimulation of the protein structure. This anabolic in effect, enhances the power performance if athletes as well as limiting the breaking down of proteins in the body thereby increasing fat burning and increasing lean muscle mass.

But even this substance does not come without its faults. As an insulin antagonist, growth hormones lead to highly increased blood sugar levels which can result in diabetes mellitus. Also, the overgrowth of limbs, facial features (acromegaly) and an uncontrolled growth of the internal organs is also possible when using this substance. The risk of cancer is also greatly increased among people who inject growth hormones.

Note: Increasing your intake of Vitamin D and Creatine as well as consuming less sugar, increasing your strength training and sleeping more can all contribute to a natural boost in the growth hormone.


The abbreviation “IGF-1” refers to insulin-like growth factor-1 also known as somatomedin C. This hormone is produced by the liver and acts similarly to insulin by lowering blood sugar levels. In the muscle, IGF-1 acts as an anabolic so is therefore classified as a doping agent if used intravenously.

Side effects of IGF-1 include the possible formation of tumours, increased weakness of the tendons and ligaments, rapid weight loss and acromegaly.

In addition to the examples listed, there are a variety of other hormones that are used for doping, more information can be found in the latest ‘Prohibited List’ on the UK Anti-Doping website.


Diuretics are substances that promote the expulsion of fluid from the body through urine. They are usually medically used to treat urinary tract infections or high blood pressure. In regards to professional sports though, it can be seen as a doping masking method, as previously ingested banned substances can then be watered down by the increase urine dilution.

This thereby makes it more difficult to detect doping substances in urine. Furthermore diuretics are also used by some athletes when ‘making weight’ is an issue (through the reduction of body water content).

The greatest risk for using diuretics is usually short term and involves dehydration and electrolyte loss which can affect performance and negatively impact the circulatory system.

Blood doping

In the process of “blood doping” either blood infusions or artificial oxygen carriers used. A blood transfusion shortly before a sporting event usually causes an increased blood volume and subsequently a larger number of oxygenated red blood cells which supplement and nourish the muscles more than usual.

The administration of autologous blood (collection and re-transfusion of the same person’s blood) is generally low risk with low chance of side effects. However allogeneic transfusions may result in serious allergic reactions and other infectious diseases from the donor can be transmitted.

Even artificial oxygen carriers, a method originally conceived in medicine for shock therapy after a high blood loss is used to increase oxygen uptake and transportation. These methods are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and athletes found using such techniques can look to be punished accordingly.


Certain stimulants go past the level of a general energy boost or for alertness but are often classified as ‘hardcore’ stimulants. These include, for example, all types of amphetamines, dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine or ephedrine. The reason they are not permitted as substances to be used during competitive sport is due to their influence on the cognitive and psychomotor skills

Using such stimulants usually reduce the feeling of fatigue, meaning the individual can thereby train harder for a longer period of time, another reason why stimulants are used especially in endurance events.  In addition, the substances increase the sense of alertness, self-confidence and drive. Unfortunately in the case of excessive ingestion they interfere with the biological rhythm of the body and prolong the recovery time. Other side effects include dizziness, nervousness, aggressiveness, hot flashes and circulatory failure.

β blockers (beta blockers)

Substances in this group block the action of the β-receptors of the stress hormone adrenaline. As medication, β-blockers are commonly used to treat those with hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiac arrhythmias, or an overactive thyroid.

When used for the purpose of sports participation, these substances reduce the heart’s pulse and reduce the blood pressure, which calms the individual. Therefore, β-blockers and sedatives are particularly used by athletes who require steady hands, very good hand-eye co-ordination or a high level of concentration e.g. archery, darts or netball).

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