by PhilipJ on 2 August 2007
Athletes are constantly striving for better performance in their sports. Most athletes stay in top shape through a rigorous training program in fitness and nutrition, giving them the strength and stamina to push their bodies to the physical limit. But some athletes also look to biochemistry to improve their performance even further. There are many ways to give nature an artificial boost. For instance, some athletes artificially increase the number of red blood cells in their blood, either by injecting purified cells or by using the blood-stimulating hormone erythropoietin. The extra red blood cells carry more oxygen to their straining muscles than in normal blood, giving them an edge in endurance. Similarly, many male athletes use steroid hormones like testosterone to spur their muscles into growth far beyond what is normally possible, giving them the edge in strength. These methods are controversial and regarded by many to be unethical, and thus are generally banned from organized sporting events. However, the many drug testing scandals currently in the news show that these methods are still in widespread use.
Anabolic steroids like testosterone are among the most common performance enhancing drugs used by athletes today. Anabolic steroids have two major functions. First, they are androgenic, being responsible for control of “male” characteristics. Before birth, testosterone directs the formation of male characteristics in the growing embryo, and at puberty, raised levels of testosterone direct the changes as a boy grows into a man. Second, these steroids are anabolic: they regulate anabolic processes such as synthesis of protein in muscle, formation of blood cells, and the emotional and physical aspects of sexual function.
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