EPO & Steroids: Why Athletes Use Them

EndurElite Chief Endurance Officer Matt Mosman discusses how EPO and steroids work physiologically and why some endurance athletes choose to illegally dope with these two banned substances.

Video Transcription:

Why Athletes Use EPO & Steroids

Oh yeah, the juice is loose. Feel it. Is that camera on? Turn that off. Turn that off. You guys didn't see anything there, not at all. Good morning family of fast, Matt Mosman, the Chief Endurance Officer over at EndurElite, here today to talk to you about a hot topic, or trendy topic, and a somewhat controversial topic, and this is performance-enhancing drugs in endurance sports. And I got the idea for this video after watching the Netflix documentary, "Icarus." And for those of you who haven't seen it, "Icarus" basically follows this amateur cyclist through a season of road racing and during this time he's experimenting with performance-enhancing drugs like EPO and testosterone and seeing how it effects his performance from, you know, when he starts it to when he's done with it.

Anyways, to make a long story short, I mean, his improvements while on these drugs are pretty substantial. Now, I'm not here to talk about the ethics of performance-enhancing drugs, I would not touch that with a 10-foot pole. But as an exercise physiologist, you know, I think it's pretty interesting how these drugs works. And that's what we're really gonna talk about today, because I'm sure a lot of you are curious about how these drugs work from a physiological perspective. So I'm just gonna present you two things today. We're going to look at how EPO enhances endurance performance, and how testosterone/steroids enhances endurance performance. So we'll basically...or tell you what they are from a physiological perspective, how they're increasing performance. But then also look at some of the side effects of some of these performance enhancing drugs and then we'll just wrap it up in a nice little package. And again, I'm not gonna touch the ethics on this one if I can help it.

How EPO Enhances Endurance Performance

So let's look at the first one, and this is EPO. Now, EPO stands for erythropoietin, and because that's a tongue twister, I'm just going to say EPO from this point forward. Now, EPO is a protein in the body that increases red blood cells. Now, by itself, EPO is not gonna elevate red blood cell count substantially, but what scientists have done or dopers have done is figured out a way how to increase EPO in the body. And what EPO does again is it increases red blood cell count, and as we all know or may not know, the more red blood cells that you have, the more oxygen that gets delivered to your working muscles. So more oxygen equals being able to run, ride faster, longer, stronger without getting fatigued as quickly.

Now, what the dopers have done in the past is they've done blood transfusions to increase the amount of EPO in their body, but there are also drugs out there that are synthesized that can also do the same thing. But the point being is EPO increases red blood cell count, red blood cells carry more oxygen to working muscles and that's where you get the benefits of EPO. But EPO isn't without side effects, especially in warm, hot conditions, and if you aren't hydrating, and if you're doping with EPO or blood doping, your blood can turn to sludge and kill you. So, you just got to really weigh, you know, is EPO really worth the tradeoff of death. And I'd say, no. So that is EPO.

How Steroids Enhance Endurance Performance

Now, let's look at the other one, testosterone/steroids. Now, when you think of this, you probably think more of like the bodybuilder who's beating their chest and getting jacked and swole in the gym and going on roid ragers. Usually don't associate testosterone steroids with endurance athletes, and it's for opposite reasons really why some endurance athletes choose to dope with testosterone. And this basically is why when an athlete takes testosterone or steroids, it basically speeds up the recovery process substantially, so the athlete can train harder and harder day after day after day. Like think about doing intervals day after day after day and the amazing adaptations that could happen if you're recovering quicker. So that's really the reason why the athletes will do that, and the mechanism by which testosterone works is it reduces muscle protein breakdown. But it also, interestingly enough, can increase red blood cell count too, like the EPO. So when you put the EPO together, the testosterone together, you can see why that combination is appealing to all these guys that are doping. But like EPO, testosterone has certain side effects. Then that's say, you know, balding, big man boobies, your balls shrinking, possible liver damage and liver shutdown if you do like oral steroids. So again, are those performance enhancements worth all those side effects happening, I don't think so. I mean, to me it's just it would not be worth it.

So that's just a quick glimpse at EPO and testosterone, how they work from a physiological's perspective and how they can enhance performance but also the side effects. So let's just wrap this up and I'm gonna tell you a little bit of a back story or something I heard a long time ago. I think it was like 20 years ago some people put out a poll asking Olympic athletes, you know, if you could win a gold medal and that required taking drugs but you were to die one year later, would you still take these drugs? And about 95% of these athletes said absolutely, I would take drugs, win the gold medal and I would be happy dying five, you know, one to five years later. That's scary.

Like I know as endurance athletes, like we really want to be good, but considering like the long term effects including death, I mean, you could see where performance-enhancing drugs in my opinion don't have a huge appeal. And here's the other caveat too. Taking EPO by itself or testosterone by itself while not exercising isn't going to turn you into Lance Armstrong. Sorry, very bad example. Taking EPO and testosterone without doing the hard training isn't going to turn you into any superhuman athlete by any means, and sooner or later that drug use is going to catch up to you and bodily failure is more than likely gonna occur or there's going to be some really negative long term consequences to using performance-enhancing drugs.

So I know I said I wasn't gonna talk about the ethics of performance-enhancing drugs, but I would not do it, it is just...it's not worth the tradeoff. It's interesting how they work and how they can improve performance, but the side effects, in my opinion, farly outweigh how much it's going to increase your performance and give you the glory that you've always looking for.

So that is it for today, my endurance friends. If you haven't checked out the documentary "Icarus," I encourage you to do so, it's a very interesting look at doping. Please share this video with your friends if you liked it. Head on over to the EndurElite blog at www.endurelite.com if you want more videos like this. And until next time, my endurance friends, stay fueled, stay focused, stay fast, and stay informed.