In the fallout of the extensive state sponsored Russian doping events, it leaves the wrestling fan base to wonder “How expansive is doping in Russian wrestling?” and if so “Which doping strategies would they use?”. While I do not know the answer to the first question, I can speculate on doping strategies benefiting wrestling. Although, these Russian athletes are not the only athletes doping, nor is wrestling completely clean of doping. Dr. H. Lee Sweeney of the University of Pennsylvania (gene therapy expert), has been quoted “No matter what I say to them about gene doping being dangerous and experimental, it doesn’t slow them down-they just keep pushing.”
When Brandon Slay won his Olympic gold medal in 2000, he did so after his opponent Alexander Leipoid of Germany tested positive for exogenous testosterone. More recently, for the 2016 Olympics, Russian flyweight silver medalist boxer Misha Aloian tested positive for a stimulant tuaminoheptane and Romanian bronze medalist weightlifter Gabriel Sincraian tested positive for exogenous testosterone. Both of these sports are similar to wrestling in respective ways and their doping methods can be applied in wrestling.
The effects of stimulants similar to tuaminoheptane can benefit athletes by increased alertness, diminished fatigue and increased cardiovascular activation (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland). Just as warming up prior to practice or competition prepares the body, stimulants can also prepare the body by increasing the excitation of muscles, increasing sweat response, decreasing appetite, increasing fight or flight response and increasing blood flow (oxygen) to muscles (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland). The former of these responses can benefit anaerobic dependent sports; like wrestling, while the later are more critical in reaching maximum endurance performance.
In the case of Gabriel Sincraian, you might be asking; why would a wrestler who needs to make weight want to use steroids?
The answer lies in:
- Recovery from training
- Increased strength: mass ratio
- Improved endurance
“People think doping is for lazy people who want to avoid hard work. That might be true in some cases, but in mine, as with many riders I knew, it was precisely the opposite. EPO granted the ability to suffer more; to push yourself farther and harder than you’d ever imagined, in both training and racing.”-Tyler Hamilton
The reason anabolic steroids are effective is they promote greater recovery from training, allowing higher volume and greater intensity of training.
This concept is explained in the ESPN 30/30 documentary 0.79* on Ben Johnson; the 1988 original gold medal winner of the 100m dash. It was reported in between his bronze medal finish in 1984 and 1988 Ben Johnson started doping with testosterone. Dr. Robert Voy of the USOC sports medicine department (1983-1989) described the ability to train maximally 2x/day while doping with testosterone compared to 1x/3 days without doping.
Improvements in speed, power and strength come from training and recovery from training (University of Alabama). Increased recovery capacity is what makes doping with testosterone so effective. The increased recovery allows athletes to work harder and perform more work.
Increased muscle building and muscle recovery is what enables testosterone activity to improve recovery, strength and body composition. Understand, muscles are always in a flux between building up and breaking down (Gatorade Sports Science Institute). After a hard training session muscle breakdown will be higher (University of Texas-Galveston).
With increased testosterone activity, athletes can increase muscle building activity (University of Rochester). When muscles are building and recovering they use more calories (University of Rochester). The calories burned during muscle recovery and building helps an athlete lose body fat, maintain muscle, and therefore improve his/her strength to mass ratio (Maastricht University).The muscle building actions of testosterone are increased when testosterone interacts with androgen receptors of cells; without this interaction increasing your testosterone will not have much effect on “improved libido, performance, drive, and vitality!” that many testosterone boosters claim.
Lastly, increased testosterone activity will also increase production of erythropoietin (EPO). If you follow any professional cycling you know that EPO is the drug of choice for these endurance athletes. Erythropoietin is a hormone that increases red blood cell (RBC) production and RBC’s carry oxygen. With increased RBC’s comes increased oxygen carrying capacity and oxygen carrying capacity = endurance.
One question that might remain as the reader is “How can I naturally increase testosterone? And how does endurance training affect testosterone?”
Increasing testosterone can be accomplished by manipulating your weight training (Systematic Review):
- Utilize large muscles (i.e. quad muscles, gluteus, latissimus)
- Use heavier loads (80-95% 1RM)
- Moderate – High volume (≥ 3 sets)
- Shorter rest intervals (60 – 90 seconds)
- Use rest days
How does endurance training affect testosterone?
- Increases in testosterone will not be as large in endurance work compared to weight training.
- Interval training is better at increasing testosterone than long-distance endurance training (University of North Carolina).
Rules on muscle building:
- Only the muscle fibers used in training can adapt to the training.
- The more muscle fibers you use, the more muscle adaptation you can get.
Scientific 2nd Half- The Know-How of Hormones
Because testosterone is a sex hormone it will have both anabolic (tissue building) and androgenic (male development) effects. When doping with testosterone, athletes can be more specific towards greater tissue building vs. male development effects.
The function of hormones or “steroids” is the most misunderstood and overused concept in human physiology. The word steroid implies that the hormone can penetrate cell walls (remember those phospholipid bilayer’s from 10th grade?) and communicate directly to the cell nucleus to start transcribing DNA (transcription of DNA can change cell function i.e. strength, size, speed). The other class of hormones are called non-steroid hormones, these hormones cannot penetrate cell membranes (i.e. the fight-or-flight hormones). The non-steroid hormones bind to receptors on the cell surface, which starts a cascade of signaling molecules to communicate with the cell nucleus.Understand training, adaptation, and improvement are not completely dependent on testosterone. There are many aspects to sports and sport performance, testosterone is one piece of the entire performance puzzle.