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C H A P T E R 15. ERGOGENIC AIDS AND SPORT. w Learn the importance of including control groups and placebos when studying the ergogenic properties of a substance. (continued). Learning Objectives.

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C H A P T E R 15



w Learn the importance of including control groups and placebos when studying the ergogenic properties of a substance.


Learning Objectives

w Review various substances that have been proposed to be ergogenic aids—substances or phenomena that enhance performance above expected levels.


Learning Objectives

w Find out the proposed ergogenic benefits, proven effects, and risks of several pharmacological, hormonal, physiological, and nutritional agents.

w Discover which substances that have been considered ergogenic are actually ergolytic—they impair performance.


Examples of Ergogenic Aids in Sports

w Football—anabolic steroids

w Cycling—blood doping; amphetamines

w Wrestling—diuretics, amphetamines

w Distance running—phosphate loading

Note: Scientific studies are limited by the accuracy of measurements and individual day-to-day variability. Events are won by hundredths of seconds or by centimeters.


Placebo Effect

The placebo effect is when your expectations of a substance determine your body’s response to it. While the effect is psychological in origin, the body’s physical response to the substance is real.


Pharmacological Agents

w Amphetamines

w Beta blockers

w Caffeine

w Diuretics

w Recreational drugs (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, nicotine)


Amphetamines (Sympathomimetic Drugs)

Banned by IOC, etc.

w Increase mental alertness, blood pressure, heart rate, blood glucose and FFA levels, and muscle tension

w Decrease sense of fatigue

w Redistribute blood flow to skeletal muscles

w May enhance speed, power, endurance, concentration, and fine motor coordination

w May be addictive and can trigger cardiac arrhythmia or death


Beta Blockers (Opposite Effects of Amphetamines)

Banned by IOC, etc.

w Prevent the binding of norepinephrine to β-receptors, thus decreasing sympathetic nervous system effects

w May improve accuracy (for shooting sports)

w Decrease aerobic capacity but have no effect on strength, power, or muscular endurance

w Prolonged use can cause bradycardia, heart blockage, hypotension, brochospasm, fatigue, and decreased motivation


Caffeine (Stimulant)

Legal in low to moderate amounts

w Increases mental alertness, concentration, catecholamine release, and mobilization and use of FFA by the muscles

w Decreases fatigue and lowers perception of effort

w Improves endurance performance; may improve sprint and strength performance

w Can cause nervousness, insomnia, tremors, diuresis leading to dehydration, and heart arrhythmias

4-7 cups of coffee consumed over a 30-minute period could result in a positive urine test and disqualification


Caffeine Effects

Competitive cyclists pedaled to exhaustion at 80% VO2max after drinking a decaffeinated drink or a caffeinated drink – note that the lines for FFA are incorrectly reversed. The caffeine group exercised 20% longer than the decaffeinated group.

McArdle, Katch, and Katch,

Exercise Physiology, 2001



Banned by IOC, etc.

w Increase urine production and excretion (diuresis)

w Used for weight reduction and to mask other drugs during drug testing

w Cause weight loss (water loss)

w Can lead to dehydration, impaired thermoregulation, and electrolyte imbalances



Not banned, but restricted

w Provides energy (7 kcal/g) but inhibits metabolism

w Dulls pain sensation (increasing injury risk); reduces anxiety

w Suppresses release of ADH which leads to dehydration

w Appears to impair psychomotor function

w Has no ergogenic effects on strength, power, speed, or endurance


Cocaine (Sympathomimetic)

Banned by IOC, etc.

w Blocks reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine by neurons

w Creates feelings of euphoria, alertness, and self-confidence

w Masks fatigue and pain

w Has no evidence of ergogenic properties; likely ergolytic

w Extremely addictive; can cause psychological problems and compromise heart function



Recently banned by IOC

w Acts as a stimulant and depressant of CNS

w Impairs performance requiring hand-eye and motor coordination, fast reaction times, tracking ability, and perceptual accuracy

w Can lead to personality changes, memory impairment, hallucinations, and psychotic-like behavior

w May pose same risks as cigarette smoking (if smoked)



w Lowers VO2max values (when smoked) and peripheral circulation


Not banned by IOC

w Increases alertness and may calm nervousness

w Increases heart rate, blood pressure, autonomic reactivity, vasoconstriction, ADH and catecholamine secretion, blood lipid levels, plasma glucose, glucagon, insulin, and cortisol

w Is addictive and causes various cancers and cardiovascular diseases


Hormonal Agents

w Anabolic steroids

w Human growth hormone

w Oral contraceptives


Anabolic Steroids

w Are nearly identical to male sex hormones; synthetic form maximizes anabolic effects

w Testosterone has both anabolic (growth-promoting) and androgenic (secondary male sex characteristic-promoting) properties; anabolic steroids are designed to emphasize the anabolic properties and minimize the androgenic properties, but still retain both effects


Anabolic Steroids

w Increase muscle mass (fat-free mass) and strength

w Can cause testicular atrophy, reduced sperm count, and prostate and breast enlargement in men

w Can cause breast regression, masculinization, and menstrual disruption in women

w Can cause personality changes (“’droid rage,” liver damage, and cardiovascular disease



This graph summarizes results from a number of different studies.



Changes over 10 weeks of treatment with and without strength training


Steroid Precursors

Androstenedione (“andro”) and dehydroepiandersterone (DHEA), both natural precursors of testosterone, have been proposed to have ergogenic properties—increased muscle mass and strength—but research has not completely supported the claims that have been made.

Andro – Over-the-counter substance; banned by IOC, NCAA, etc.; made famous by Mark McGuire

DHEA – Over-the-counter substance; not banned


Natural DHEA Changes with Age

McArdle, Katch and Katch, Exercise Physiology, 2001


Human Growth Hormone (hGH)

w Secreted naturally by the anterior pituitary gland; cloned synthetic form used by some athletes, often in conjunction with anabolic steroids

w Difficult to distinguish synthetic from natural in drug testing

w Proven to increase lipolysis and blood glucose levels; changes in muscle mass and strength are found in some studies, but not in the best controlled studies or studies with athletes

w Can cause acromegaly (bone thickening), enlargement of internal organs, muscle and joint weakness, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease


Oral Contraceptives

w Control menstrual cycle for athletes who think their performance is affected by time in the cycle

w Little research on ergogenic properties

w May delay premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and dysmenorrhea (difficult or painful menstruation), alleviating symptoms on competition days

w Can cause nausea, weight gain, fatigue, hypertension, liver tumors, blood clots, stroke, or heart attack


Physiological Agents

w Blood doping

w Erythropoietin

w Oxygen supplementation

w Bicarbonate loading

w Phosphate loading



w Increases VO2max, time to exhaustion, and measurable performance

Blood Doping

w Artificial increase in total volume of red blood cells (via transfusion)

w Improves endurance performance by increasing blood’s O2-carrying capacity

w Can cause blood clotting, heart failure, and transfusion complications

Lasse Viren, from Finland, won the 5K and 10K races in both the 1972 and 1976 Olympics, and added a 5th place in the marathon in 1976 – he was suspected of blood doping, but it was never proven



Effects of Blood Doping on Hemoglobin Concentration in the Blood

Blood is drawn, RBCs are separated and frozen, then reinfused


Powers and Howley, Exercise Physiology, 1997






w Increases VO2max and time to exhaustion


w Natural hormone produced by the kidneys to stimulate red blood cell production

w Can be cloned and administered to increase red blood cell volume: called epoetin (EPO)

w Can cause blood clotting and heart failure due to increased blood viscosity; can increase above 60%; is believed to have caused at least 18 deaths in competitive cyclists


Oxygen Supplementation

w Breathed by athlete in an attempt to increase oxygen content of blood

w Can improve performance if administered during exercise, but not before or after

w Too cumbersome to be practical

w No serious risks known



Subjects performed 2 60-second bouts of all-out cycling; oxygen or room air was administered during the 2 minutes between the bouts.



w Naturally part of body’s buffering system to maintain normal pH

w Loading increases blood alkalinity so that more lactate can be cleared (delay fatigue)

w Ingesting 300 mg per kg body weight can increase performance in all-out anaerobic exercise bouts between 1 and 7 minutes

w Can cause gastrointestinal cramping, bloating, and diarrhea


Effects of Bicarbonate Loading before and between Exercise Bouts

The 5th bout was to exhaustion; the bicarbonate-loaded group went 42% longer than the control group.


Loading is thought to increase phosphate levels throughout the body, which potentially would then

w Increase potential for oxidative phosphorylation and PCr synthesis

w Enhance oxygen release to the cells

w Improve cardiovascular response to exercise and buffering and endurance capacities

Phosphate Loading

Studies are divided on results of phosphate loading.

No risks are yet known.


Nutritional Agents

w Amino acids

w L-carnitine

w Creatine

w Glycerol

w Pyruvate


Amino Acids

w L-tryptophan (precursor to seratonin) and branched chain amino acids (BCAA: leucine, isoleucine, valine)

w L-trytophan is proposed to have an analgesic effect on the CNS and increase endurance performance by delaying fatigue; BCAAs similarly are proposed to delay fatigue through CNS mechanisms

w Studies are inconclusive on effects on performance



Effects of BCAAs on time to exhaustion during cycling at ~75% VO2max. There were no significant differences among the treatments.



w Supplement proposed to increase delivery of FFAs from the cytoplasm to the mitochondria, i.e., to stimulate fat metabolism in the muscles and spare glycogen

w Although theoretically reasonable, there is not compelling evidence that ingestion of L-carnitine increases fat metabolism or enhances performance



w Supplement proposed to increase muscle PCr levels to better maintain muscle ATP levels during intense exercise

  • Studies report great variation in the effects:
    • 50 out of 92 studies show increased anaerobic power
    • 12 out of 22 studies show increased anaerobic endurance
    • 7 out of 16 studies show increased aerobic endurance
    • Most studies show increased total body mass, probably primarily from increased water retention; when coupled with weight training, it may increase fat-free mass

No major risks with small to moderate doses, although some athletes would not want the associated weight gain.


Other Nutritional Agents

wGlycerol might have ergogenic properties facilitating water storage and improving exercise performance in the heat through improved thermoreulation and reduced dehydration

w Pyruvate supplementation has no proven benefits