As bodybuilding and bodybuilding contests continue to rise on the popularity scale, so have the rewards in terms of prize money, titles and fan adulation; this in turn builds intense pressure on competitors to beat their opponents to win. This makes some utilize unscrupulous methods to beat the odds. Often, this involves taking performance enhancing drugs that build muscles unnaturally. However, drug testing in many sports have become the norm, but not so in bodybuilding. Bodybuilding “teams” that do test their contestants do not share drug testing results and hence there is the cloak of secrecy that makes it an unfair playing ground for those that do.
The ABA/INBA/PNBA post the names of those who cheat on drug tests but not others. This gives the cheaters carte blanche to continue using enhancing and recreational drugs. Their secrets remain secrets, just as they rake in huge amounts of prize winnings! These cheating athletes continue to cheat as their behavior is never exposed. And why should they stop? They have the best of both worlds: drugs and winnings.
Additionally, there is the theory that the testing process of the organizations that do not publish their results can themselves be flawed. Here are some of the shortcomings of the testing process:
Urine Drug Tests
Urine testing is the most commonly administered drug test. However, it can only be accurate if the proper methodology is followed for collection, chain of custody and testing process. The very first stage of testing: the collection process can easily be beaten if strict and ethical witnesses are not present. Typically, a witness is physically present when the competitor ‘pees’ into the collection cup, but if the witness is not reliable the urine can be switched or contaminated resulting in a false negative. Competitors also know that if they consume excess amounts of water, the testing fails.
Secondly, the chain of custody has to be controlled as tampering and or switching the urine sample can occur during the transportation of the sample from collection to delivery to the testing lab.
Testing labs are strictly monitored and regulated however, any ‘mishandling’ by the lab can negate the entire process of urine testing.
Hair Drug Tests
Hair drug testing is another option to test a bodybuilder for drugs of abuse. A sample of 90-120 hair stands (approximately the diameter of a standard ball point pen) is typically taken from the crown of the head and tested. If that much crown hair is not available, body hair can also be used for the testing. The quantity of hair collected is very important as if the testing lab does not have enough hair samples to test, the sample will become “quantity not sufficient” or QNS and rejected by the lab. This results in hair drug testing being returned as ‘non-conclusive.’
Why a hair drug test?
Hair drug tests detect drugs used for a much longer period than other tests. Hair drug testing shows a greater number of positives due to the longer time frame of detection. The time frame of detection is generally 90 days. However, one can even conduct further testing that can go back to a longer period if needed.
The advantages of a hair drug test vs. urine drug test are obvious, yet many employers and athlete management programs do not use hair drug testing due to the higher cost factor. A 5-panel urine test at a reputed lab with results available in 24-48 hours costs $40 per person versus the cost of hair testing for the same 5-panel is $90 with results available in 3-5 days.
Blood Drug Tests
Blood testing is the least used method of drug testing as it is only telling when the person is intoxicated at the time of testing. Drugs are rapidly eliminated from the body and metabolized with hours and sometimes even minutes, and the window of detection is very brief. Additionally,
the administration of a blood drug test requires specialized equipment and medically trained administrators. Blood tests are also the most expensive to administer and often cost more than $100 at private labs.
Bodybuilders who compete on a professional level advertise their training, nutrition and supplementation programs, as major contributors to their success. However, the subject of the use of anabolic/androgenic steroids to increase muscle mass and strength is always hush hush. This does not mean that all professional bodybuilders use ‘doping’ (steroids and recreational drugs) to enhance their chances of winning; But those that do are violating the standard set by the International Federation of BodyBuilding and Fitness (IFBB) which is a signatory of the World Anti Doping Association (WADA.) Unfortunately, urine tests being the most commonly used method of testing does not detect Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and this has lead to bodybuilders abusing HGH up until the day of competitions. Some testosterone compounds which are also on the banned WADA list are detectable for as little as four days and so cheating athletes take all this into consideration when using them. Why then are urine testing so popular and not others that could possibly detect other WADA banned substances? The reason: cost. The WADA prohibited list contains nearly 7000 substances and to run a test to detect them can cost $2000 per athlete! This alone is a major deterrent for bodybuilding leagues to drug test their athletes.
What is the most popular bodybuilding drug? Testosterone Deconate is most certainly the winner: it comes in the form of a soft gel that stays detectable for one week only. Many nutritional supplements marketed as drug free are truly not drug free as they contain anabolic elements that can easily be infused into whey protein and testosterone boosters.
Testosterone and Epitestosterone
Epitestosterone is a natural steroid that is typically at a high level in young males; however, by adulthood, most healthy males exhibit a testosterone to epitestosterone ratio (T/E ratio) of about 1:1. The disturbance of this ratio occurs when testosterone is administered excessively and to enhance performance. A urine drug test reveals this kind of ‘doping.’ The WADA guidelines require that strict maintenance of the T:E ratio be kept up.
How then can drug test administrators make tests that are hard to beat? Experts say that the tests are good enough but the system of testing needs to change. Right now most drug tests are administered during the weigh-in session of the bodybuilders, this gives them enough time to prepare to beat detection. The key is to adopt random drug testing wherein the professional bodybuilders are tested even during off- season.