Note: An "Ergogenic aid" is something that is used to enhance athletic performance. This article by Adam Furman discusses the following egogenic aids.
Common Ergogenics in Use
There exist a plethora of ergogenic aids that athletes can utilize to improve their performance. Of primary concern and discussed throughout this paper will be steroids, growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor, amphetamines, and creatine. Each of these ergogenic aids has varied effects and is taken for different reasons, but they all share the same common characteristic; not enough long-term studies have been conducted.
This essay paper is a scientific approach to answering the following questions with the athlete in mind regarding the usage of steroids, growth hormone, insulin-like growth factor, amphetamines, and creatine:
This essay paper will define and explain these questions in a current and scientific matter with no bias opinions.
What are the Benefits of these 5 Ergogenic Aids?
Anabolic-androgenic steroids have been shown to increase fat-free mass and strength (Fahey, p. 205). Elite athletes know that by increasing their strength there is a strong correlation with an improved rate of performance, which can lead to becoming the best. For some athletes their sport depends upon large muscle and body size. In a study by Forbes, a professional bodybuilder and a competitive weightlifter took steroids for 140 and 135 days, respectively, at very high dosages and resulted in an average increase of 42.3lbs (Forbes, p. 571-573).
Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) is thought to be extremely anabolic. Tests have been done on mice being injected with IGF-1 the results have indicated that the ergogenic aid may be a major regulator in the lifespan of mammals (Holzenberger, 2003). Benefits of IGF-1 are similar to hGH (human growth hormone); they include increasing the rate speed of proteins entering the muscle cells, which increase the cell’s growth rate. Other benefits include mobilizing fat from fat cells, so both are useful in controlling body composition (Fahey, 2010).
Amphetamines are central nervous system stimulants that increase alertness, suppress appetite, increase speed, better focus, higher maximum heart rate and peak lactate concentration at exhaustion, and reaction time increased (Wilmore, p. 360). In the medical world amphetamines have been used to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (Wilmore, p. 358).
Of all the ergogenic aids listed in this essay creatine has been the only legal one that effectively increases strength and fat-free mass without the detrimental side effects (Nissen, 2003). Creatine has been scientifically deemed as a beneficial ergogenic aid, promotes the production of lean muscle mass, and increases the availability of ATP (Franco-Obregón, 2004).
Risks Associated with the Use of the 5 Ergogenic Aids.
The Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990 and 2004 made steroids a schedule III substance, which allowed the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) to restrict the importation, distribution, exportation, and dispensing of anabolic-androgenic steroids (Fahey, 2010). An individual who engages in a pattern of harmful behaviors that alter their mood and may consequently alter their physiological makeup are classified as being a substance abuser. Anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) affect the brain by binding to androgen and estrogen receptors on the surface of cells and then make their way into the nucleus of the cell to influence patterns of gene expression (NIDA, 09). It is because of this neurological process that AAS does not induce an acute increase in dopamine, but long term effects of AAS eventually have been shown to utilize the same brain pathways and chemicals as other drugs that are abused. Substance abuse of AAS, therefore, can lead to mood and behavior altering effects that are induced chemically into the brain. AAS substances cost money, take time, and require the ability to obtain them even though they are illegal. The cost of AAS can be expensive, due to the repercussions of selling an illegal item and the hardship to obtain the product. The prevalence to ignore these factors and to continue usage is an indication of an addiction. When the steroid abuser stops the usage of steroids, withdrawal symptoms can set in. These symptoms can include mood swings, fatigue, insomnia, reduced appetite, and steroid cravings (National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2009). Long term AAS users have been shown to have psychological problems with body image and are in pursuit of adhering to stereotypic views of masculinity (Kanayama, p. 697-703). The psychiatric dysfunctions that may come from the use of steroids are maniac-like symptoms that can lead to violence, paranoid jealously, delusions, extreme irritability, and impaired judgment that stems from the feeling of invincibility (National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2009). Physical negative side effect signs of a male athlete using steroids are shrinking of the testicles, gynomastia (male breast development), and baldness (National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2009). For female users of AAS there are also negative side effects, which include deepened voice, enlargement of the clitoris, facial hair growth, and male pattern baldness (U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration, 2004).
The risk associated with athletes taking insulin-like growth hormone is comparable to those of growth hormone (Fahey, p.2010). In this section of the essay both risks for IGF-1 and hGH (human growth hormone) will be included together, because of the previously stated similarity. The associated risks for both substances may be lower blood sugar, elevated insulin levels, heart enlargement, elevated blood fats, and the possibility to lead to acromegaly, osteoporosis, arthritis, and heart disease (Wilmore, p. 368).
Side effects of amphetamines are possible death, heart rate, and increased blood pressure. There has not been enough long term studies on the side effects of amphetamines, more long term studies are needed to fully understand the risks.
Current research has concluded that creatine has no side effects; this is after more than 30 studies with some lasting 3 years in length (Fahey, 2010). Some research has anecdotally linked creatine to diarrhea, dehydration, muscle cramping, and muscle strains (Fahey, 2010).
How does the Ergogenic aid physiologically work?
Anabolic steroids are nearly identical to the male hormone, testosterone. Synthetic forms of testosterone have been manufactured to be administered by injection or orally. Steroids bind with the cytoplasmic androgen receptor and then is translocated into the nucleus. Once inside the nucleus it seems to enhance transprition of certain genes. Synthetic forms have been manufactured to increase hormones in the body that have anabolic (muscle building) properties and minimize androgenic (masculine) features (Wilmore, p.363).
Insulin-like growth hormone is primarily regulated by the production of GH (growth hormone and IGF-1 inhibits the release of the growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) which in turn inhibits GH in an endocrine negative feedback loop (Insulin-like Growth Factor, 2006).
Amphetamines are central nervous system stimulants that have previously been used in World War II soldiers, to fight fatigue and to also improve endurance (Wilmore, p. 359).
Creatine supplementation increases creatine phosphate in the muscle, which increases the levels of ATP. Increased levels of ATP supplement the ATP-PCr energy system with more ATP which in turn could lead to enhanced peak power and better recovery after an intense bout of exercise (Wilmore, p. 377).
Thanks for reading, Adam Furman
About the author:
Adam Furman is a competitive natural bodybuilder who is majoring in Sports and Health science with my concentration being pre-sports medicine with a career goal of becoming a doctor of physical therapy. He is also currently serving in the Navy.
Fahey, T. (2010). Basic weight training for men & women (Seventh ed.). New York :
Franco-Obregon, A. (2004, December 4). Creatine and HMB: the power team. Creatine
information center . Retrieved October 1, 2011, from
Forbes, G. B. (1985). The effect of anabolic steroids on lean body mass: The dose response
curve. Metabolism, 34, 571-573.
Holzenberger, M., Dupont, J., Ducos, B., Lenevue, P., Geloen, A., Even, P., et al. (2003, January
9). IGF-1 receptor regulates lifespan and resistance to oxidative stress in mice. National
Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved October 18, 2011, from
Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1)-The first line-test for assessing excess Growth Hormone.
(n.d.). Communique. Retrieved October 15, 2011, from
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2009, July). Steroids Anabolic-Androgenic. Retrieved
September 30, 2011, from http: www.drugabuse.gov/infofacts/steroids.html
Nissen, S. L., Sharp, R. L. (2003). Effect of dietary supplements on lean mass and strength gains with resistance exercise: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Physiology, 94, 651-659.
U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration. (2004). A guide for
understanding steroids and related substances [Brochure].
Wilmore, J. Costill, D. Kenney, W. (2008). Physiology of sport & exercise (4th ed.
Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics