Some Indian athletes have in the recent past been accused of taking anabolic steroids to enhance their performance. Also known as anabolic-androgen steroids, these drugs help muscles grow dramatically in size and therefore in strength, power, endurance and ability.
Anabolism is the constructive phase of metabolism—it activates the build-up of cellular tissue from simpler, less complex tissues. The use of anabolic steroids accelerates this process, helping muscles grow at a rapid rate, and dramatically improving performance.
Anabolic steroids, or “roids”, as they are often referred to, mimic the action of male sex hormones—testosterone and dihydrotestosterone. They increase the synthesis of proteins in muscle cells, thereby enhancing their capability. Originally, anabolic steroids were used to combat the wasting effects of life-threatening conditions such as cancer and HIV, osteoporosis, or to induce male puberty for growth-challenged adolescents, conditions where the benefits of using anabolic steroids far outweigh the risks of the possible side effects of nausea, yellowing of skin or mood changes. Indiscriminate use of anabolic steroids without a medical condition for dramatic gains in performance amounts to abuse and adverse side effects are more pronounced with chronic and repeat users.
Finishing first: Anabolic steroids may lead to liver and heart damage
Now, it is the high-achieving, competitive athletes, bodybuilders and racers who are tempted to abuse roids to win against all odds. The gains in performance increase substantially when anabolic steroids are used along with a high-performance diet comprising adequate protein, fibrous carbohydrate and omega fats, and combined with a systematic high-intensity exercise regimen.
The side effects are numerous, and dangerous, when anabolic steroids are abused over the long term. Anabolic steroids have low acute toxicity, that is, the toxicity that results from just a one-time or sporadic use, but high chronic toxicity, or the toxicity that results from repeated and long-term use. Because levels of the male sex hormone testosterone are raised beyond the body’s physiological threshold, temporary damage could include hair loss and acne. More permanent and dangerous conditions include gynecomastia (breast formation in men), impotence, testicular atrophy, liver damage, critical changes in the left ventricle (one of the four chambers of the heart), raised total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol or LDL-C levels and hypertension. For women, increased levels of the male sex hormone in the body can make them more masculine—it can lead to increased hirsutism (facial and body hair), changes in or cessation of menstrual cycle, a masculine body shape, bulky musculature, increased aggression and a deeper, more hoarse voice.
It makes sense, therefore, for athletes to stay away from anabolic steroids, especially without medical supervision, focus more on eating an adequate diet of healthy proteins, fats and carbohydrates, and exercise regularly. All this promotes anabolism in a safe manner, replete with adequate muscle gain, stamina and a healthy body weight.
One area of concern in India is that most diets are protein-deficient. Protein deficiency increases muscle breakdown and catabolic activity and therefore affects performance and stamina. Catabolism, a part of the metabolic process, involves the breakdown of the body’s tissues and muscles for energy and nutrient needs. The World Health Organization recommends at least 0.8g protein per kg of body weight daily for an adult. A sportsperson needs at least 2g of protein per kg of body weight and a bodybuilder, 3g or more. Atheletes should therefore calculate their protein requirements and ensure a regular intake throughout the day to promote anabolism—the build-up of muscle tissue. Eggs, skimmed-milk paneer or cottage cheese, whey protein supplements, poultry and seafood are first-class and complete proteins. Whey protein has what is known as a BV or biological value of 104, and is even better absorbed and more readily used by the body than the protein from eggs, milk, poultry and seafood. Lentils, beans and sprouts are categorized as second-class proteins—these are incomplete because they lack essential amino acids such as methionine.
Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.
Write to Madhuri at firstname.lastname@example.org